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English grammar 




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A Reference for the Rest of Us! 



English Grammar 



Speak with ease, 

write with confidence, and 

release your fears! 



Avoid speech blunders 

and grammar foul-ups with this 

friendly, practical guide! 

Sick of people correcting your grammar all the time? Relax! Let expert 
Geraldine Woods show you the way. From pronouns, participles, and 
parallel structure to adjectives, verbs, and tenses, this friendly guide will 
put the joy back into 'proper' speaking and writing — without bogging 
you down in a boring list of rules. 

Geraldine Woods has taught grammar for 1 7 years at a New York City 
private school and has written more than 40 books, including biographies, 
reference books, and grammar workbooks. 



Explanations in plain English 

-Get in, get out’ information 

Icons and other navigational aids 

Tear-out cheat sheet 

Top ten lists 

A dash of humor and fun 






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, Discover 

now to: 

Avoid common 
grammatical errors 

Use proper punctuation 

Conjugate verbs and get 
your tenses right 

Say exactly what you 



Decide when to use slang 

Become an effective 
proofreader 



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For Dummies 



Parts of Speech 



u 0 Noun: names a person, place, thing, idea [Lulu, jail, cantaloupe, loyalty, and so on) 

u 0 Pronoun: takes the place of a noun (he, who, I, what, and so on) 

u 0 Verb: expresses action or being [scrambled, was, should win, and so on) 

u 0 Adjective: describes a noun or pronoun (messy, strange, alien, and so on) 

u 0 Adverb: describes a verb, adjective, or other adverb (willingly, woefully, very, and so on) 

u 0 Preposition: relates a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence (by, for, from, and so on) 

u 0 Conjunction: ties two words or groups of words together (and, after, although, and so on) 

u 0 Interjection: expresses strong emotion (yikesi wow! ouch! and so on) 



Parts of a Sentence 



u 0 Verb (also called the predicate): expresses the action or state of being 
i 0 Subject: the person or thing being talked about 

u 0 Complement: a word or group of words that completes the meaning of the subject-verb pair 
u 0 Types of complements: direct and indirect objects, subject complement, objective complement 






Pronouns Tips 



Pronouns that may be used only as subjects or subject complements: I, he, she, we, they, who, 
whoever. 

Pronouns that may be used only as objects or objective complements: me, him, her, us, them, whom, 
whomever. 

Common pronouns that may be used as either subjects or objects: you, it, everyone, anyone, no one, 
someone, mine, ours, yours, theirs, either, neither, each, everybody, anybody, nobody, somebody, 
everything, anything, nothing, something, any, none, some, which, what, that. 

Pronouns that show possession: my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose. 



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Subject-Verb Agreement Tips 



Match singular subjects with singular verbs, plural subjects with plural verbs. 

Amounts of time and money are usually singular (ten dollars is). 

Either/or and neither/nor: Match the verb to the closest subject (neither the boys nor the girl is). 

Eitherand neither, without their partners orand nor, always take a singular verb (either of the 
apples is). 

All subjects preceded by each and ei/erytake a singular verb. 

Both, few, several, many are always plural. 



Punctuation Tips 



Endmarks: All sentences need an endmark: a period, question mark, exclamation point, or 
ellipsis. Never put two endmarks at the end of the same sentence. 

Apostrophes: For singular ownership generally add s;for plural ownership generally add s'. 

Commas: In direct address use commas to separate the name from the rest of the sentence. In 
lists place commas between items in a list, but not before the first item. Before conjunctions, 
when combining two complete sentences with a conjunction, place a comma before the con- 
junction. If you have one subject and two verbs, don't put a comma before the conjunction. 



Verb Tense Tips 



Simple present tense: tells what is happening now 
Simple past tense: tells what happened before now 
Simple future: talks about what has not happened yet 

Present perfect tense: expresses an action or state of being in the present that has some 
connection with the past 

Past perfect tense: places an event before another event in the past 

Future perfect tense: talks about something that has not happened yet in relation to another 
event in the future 



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Wiley Publishing, Inc. 



5/09 









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by Geraldine Woods 



Wiley Publishing, Inc. 

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English Grammar For Dummies® 

Published by 
Wiley Publishing, Inc. 

909 Third Avenue 
New York, NY 10022 

www .wiley.com 

Copyright © 2001 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana 
Published simultaneously in Canada 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, 
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Sections 107 or 108 
of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization 
through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 
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About the Author 

Geraldine Woods’ career as a grammarian began in her elementary school, 
which in those days was called “grammar school” for very good reason. With 
the guidance of a series of nuns carrying long rulers (good for pointing at the 
board and slapping unruly students), she learned how to diagram every 
conceivable type of sentence. She has been an English teacher for 25 years 
and has written 40 books, give or take a few. She loves minor-league baseball, 
Chinese food, and the novels of Jane Austen. The mother of a grown son 
(Tom, a lawyer), she lives in New York City with Harry (her husband of 30 
years) and parakeets Alice and Archie. 



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bedi cation 

For my husband and son, the hearts of my life. 



Author's Acknowledgments 

I offer thanks to my students, whose intelligence and curiosity never fail to 
inspire me. I also thank technical editor Tom LaFarge, whose good sense of 
humor and knowledge of grammar vastly improved this book. I am grateful to 
my project editor Linda Brandon, whose thoughtful comments challenged me 
to clarify my explanations and whose encouragement changed many a bad 
day into a good one. I appreciate the hard work of copy editors Billie Williams 
and Ellen Considine, who constantly reminded me to focus on you, the 
reader. I am also grateful to acquisitions editors Joyce Pepple, Roxane Cerda, 
and Susan Decker, who encouraged me at every opportunity. I owe a debt of 
gratitude to my agent, Carolyn Krupp, who calmed my nerves and answered 
my e-mails with unfailing courtesy and valuable assistance. Lastly, I thank my 
colleagues in the English Department, whose passion for teaching and love of 
our subject make my time at work a pleasure. 



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Publisher’s Acknowledgments 

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form 
located at www. dummi es.com/register. 

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following: 



Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media 
Development 

Project Editor: Linda Brandon 
Acquisitions Editor: Susan Decker 
Copy Editors: Ellen Considine, Billie A. Williams 
Technical Editor. Thomas LaFarge 
Editorial Manager: Christine Beck 
Editorial Assistant: Jennifer Young 
Cover Photos: ©1996 Rob Gage/FPG 



Production 

Project Coordinator: Regina Snyder 

Layout and Graphics: Amy Adrian, Karl Brandt, 
Joyce Haughey, Jill Piscitelli, Betty Schulte, 
Brian Torwelle, Julie Trippetti, 

Jeremey Unger 

Proofreaders: Angel Perez, TECHBOOKS 
Production Services 

Indexer. TECHBOOKS Production Services 

Special Help 

Jennifer Ehrlich 



Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies 

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies 

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies 

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Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel 

Brice Gosnell, Publishing Director, Travel 

Suzanne Jannetta, Editorial Director, Travel 

Publishing for Technology Dummies 

Richard Swadley, Vice President and Executive Group Publisher 
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher 

Composition Services 

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Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services 



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Contents at a Glance 

Introduction 1 

Part 1: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 7 

Chapter 1: 1 Already Know How to Talk. Why Should I Study Grammar? 9 

Chapter 2: Verbs: The Heart of the Sentence 17 

Chapter 3: Relax! Understanding Verb Tense 31 

Chapter 4: Who’s Doing What? How to Find the Subject 45 

Chapter 5: Having It All: The Complete Sentence 59 

Chapter 6: Handling Complements 69 

Part 11: Avoiding Common Errors 81 

Chapter 7: Getting Hitched: Marrying Sentences 83 

Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or Badly? The Lowdown 

on Adjectives and Adverbs 95 

Chapter 9: Prepositions and Interjections and Articles, Oh My! 

Other Parts of Speech Ill 

Chapter 10: Everyone Brought Their Homework: Pronoun Errors 119 

Chapter 11: Just Nod Your Head: About Agreement 131 

Part 111: Mo Garage, but Ptentg of Mechanics 147 

Chapter 12: Punctuation Law That Should Be Repealed: Apostrophes 149 

Chapter 13: Quotations: More Rules Than the Internal Revenue Service 163 

Chapter 14: The Pause That Refreshes: Commas 181 

Chapter 15: Adding Information: Semicolons, Dashes, and Colons 191 

Chapter 16: CAPITAL LETTERS 203 

Part W: Polishing Without Wax — 

The Finer Points of Grammar 219 

Chapter 17: Pronouns and Their Cases 221 

Chapter 18: Fine-tuning Verbs 233 

Chapter 19: Saying What You Want to Say: Descriptive Words and Phrases 247 

Chapter 20: Good, Better, Best: Comparisons 255 

Chapter 21: Parallels Without the Lines 269 



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Part V: Rules Even i/our Great-Aunt's 

Grammar Teacher Didn't KnovV 283 

Chapter 22: The Last Word on Verbs 285 

Chapter 23: The Last Word on Pronouns 297 

Chapter 24: The Last Word on Sentence Structure 309 

Chapter 25: The Last Word on Punctuation 325 

Part 1/1: The Part of Tens 337 

Chapter 26: Ten Ways Twe to Improve Your Proofreading 339 

Chapter 27: Ten Ways to Learn Better Grammar 343 

Index 347 



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Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

About This Book 1 

How to Use This Book 2 

What You Are Not to Read 2 

Foolish Assumptions 2 

How This Book Is Organized 3 

Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 3 

Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 3 

Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 4 

Part IV: Polishing Without Wax — 

The Finer Points of Grammar 4 

Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Aunt’s Grammar Teacher 

Didn’t Know 4 

Part VI: The Part of Tens 5 

Icons Used in This Book 5 

Where to Go from Here 6 

Part 1: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 7 

Chapter 1: 1 Already Know How to Talk. 

Why Should I Study Grammar? 9 

Living Better with Better Grammar 9 

Deciding Which Grammar to Learn 10 

Distinguishing between the Three Englishes 11 

Wanna get something to eat? Friendspeak 12 

Do you feel like getting a sandwich? Conversational English 12 

Will you accompany me to the dining room? Formal English 13 

Using the Right English at the Right Time 14 

Relying on Computer Grammar Checkers Is Not Enough 15 

Chapter 2: Verbs: The Heart of the Sentence 17 

Linking Verbs: The Giant Equal Sign 17 

Being or linking — what’s in a name? 19 

Savoring sensory verbs 20 

Completing Linking Verb Sentences Correctly 21 

Placing the Proper Pronoun in the Proper Place 23 

Lights! Camera! Action Verb! 25 

Getting by with a Little Help from My Verbs 26 

Pop the Question: Loo^iwg'^tefet^^ms.cAm 27 

Forget To Be or Not To Be: Infinitives Are Not Verbs 28 





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Chapter 3: Relax! Understanding Verb Tense 31 

Simplifying Matters: The Simple Tenses 32 

Present tense 32 

Past tense 32 

Future tense 33 

Using the Tenses Correctly 34 

Present and present progressive 34 

Past and past progressive 35 

Future and future progressive 36 

Perfecting Grammar: The Perfect Tenses 36 

Present perfect and present perfect progressive 36 

Past perfect and past perfect progressive 37 

Future perfect and future perfect progressive 38 

Using Present Perfect Tense Correctly 38 

Forming Present and Past Participles of Regular Verbs 40 

Just to Make Things More Difficult: Irregular Verbs 41 

“To be or not to be” is a complete pain 41 

Irregular past and past participles 42 

Chapter 4: Who's Doing What? How to Find the Subject 45 

Who’s Driving the Truck or Why the Subject Is Important 45 

Teaming up: Subject and verb pairs 46 

Compound subjects and verbs: Two for the price of one 46 

Pop the Question: Locating the Subject-Verb Pair 47 

What’s a Nice Subject Like You Doing in a Place Like This?: 

Unusual Word Order 48 

Find That Subject! Detecting You-Understood 49 

Don’t Get Faked Out: Avoiding Fake Verbs and Subjects 51 

Finding fake verbs 51 

Watching out for here and there and other fake subjects 52 

Choosing the correct verb for here and there sentences 53 

Subjects Aren’t Just a Singular Sensation: 

Forming the Plural of Nouns 54 

Regular plurals 54 

The IES and YS have it 55 

No knifes here: Irregular plurals 56 

The brother-in-law rule: Hyphenated plurals 57 

When the Subject Is a Number 57 

Chapter 5: Having It All: The Complete Sentence 59 

Completing Sentences: The Essential Subjects and Verbs 59 

Complete Thoughts, Complete Sentences 61 

Taking an Incomplete: Fragment Sentences 63 

Oh, Mama, Could This Really Be the End? 

Understanding Endmarks 65 



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Table of Contents 



Chapter 6: Handling Complements 69 

Getting to the Action: Action Verb Complements 70 

Receiving the action: Direct objects 70 

Rare, but sometimes there: Indirect objects 72 

No bias here: Objective complements 73 

Finishing the Equation: Linking Verb Complements 74 

Pop the Question: Locating the Complement 75 

Pop the Question: Finding the Indirect Object 76 

Pronouns as Objects and Subject Complements 78 

Part 11: Avoiding Common Errors 81 

Chapter 7: Getting Hitched: Marrying Sentences 83 

Matchmaking: Combining Sentences Legally 83 

Connecting with coordinate conjunctions 84 

Pausing to place commas 84 

Attaching thoughts: Semi-colons 87 

Boss and Employee: Joining Ideas of Unequal Ranks 88 

Choosing subordinate conjunctions 89 

Steering clear of fragments 91 

Employing Pronouns to Combine Sentences 92 

Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or Badly? The Lowdown 

on Adjectives and Adverbs 95 

Adding Adjectives 96 

Adjectives describing nouns 96 

Adjectives describing pronouns 97 

Attaching adjectives to linking verbs 97 

Pop the question: Identifying adjectives 98 

Stalking the Common Adverb 99 

Pop the question: Finding the adverb 100 

Adverbs describing adjectives and other adverbs 101 

Distinguishing Between Adjectives and Adverbs 102 

Sorting adjectives from adverbs: The -ly test 103 

Sorting out adjective/ adverb pairs 104 

Avoiding Common Mistakes with Adjectives and Adverbs 108 

Placing even 108 

Placing almost 109 

Placing only 110 



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m English Grammar For Dummies 

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Chapter 9: Prepositions and Interjections and Articles, Oh My! 

Other Parts of Speech Ill 

Proposing Relationships: Prepositions Ill 

The objects of my affection: Prepositional phrases 

and their objects 112 

Are you talking to I? Prepositions and pronouns 115 

A good part of speech to end a sentence with? 116 

Interjections Are Easy! 117 

Articles: Not Just for Magazines Anymore 117 

Chapter 10: Everyone Brought Their Homework: 

Pronoun Errors 119 

Pairing Pronouns with Nouns 119 

Deciding between Singular and Plural Pronouns 121 

Using Singular and Plural Possessive Pronouns 123 

Positioning Pronoun-Antecedent Pairs 125 

Avoiding Common Pronoun Errors 127 

Using troublesome singular pronouns properly 127 

Steering clear of sexist pronouns 129 

Chapter 1 1 : Just Nod Your Head: About Agreement 131 

Writing Singular and Plural Verbs 131 

The unchangeables 132 

The changeables 132 

Easier Than Marriage Counseling: Making Subjects 

and Verbs Agree 135 

Choosing Verbs for Two Subjects 136 

The Question of Questions 137 

Present tense questions 137 

Past tense questions 138 

Future tense questions 138 

Negative Statements and Subject-Verb Agreement 139 

The Distractions: Prepositional Phrases 

and Other Irrelevant Words 140 

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Agreement with Difficult Subjects 141 

Five puzzling pronouns as subjects 141 

Here and there you find problems 142 

The Ones, the Things, and the Bodies 143 

Each and every mistake is painful 143 

I want to be alone: Either and neither 

without their partners 144 

Politics, statistics, and other irregular subjects 145 



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Table of Contents xi/ii 



Part 111: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 147 

Chapter 12: Punctuation Law That Should Be Repealed: 

Apostrophes 149 

The Pen of My Aunt or My Aunt’s Pen? Using Apostrophes 

to Show Possession 150 

Ownership for singles 150 

Because Bill doesn’t own everything: Plural possessives 151 

Possession with Proper Nouns 154 

Ownership with Hyphenated Words 155 

Possessive Nouns That End in S 156 

Common Apostrophe Errors with Pronouns 157 

Shortened Words for Busy People: Contractions 158 

Common contraction mistakes 159 

Contractions you ne’er use except in poetry 162 

Using Apostrophes with Symbols and Numbers 162 

Chapter 13: Quotations: More Rules Than 

the Internal Revenue Service 163 

And I Quote 163 

Punctuating Quotations 165 

Quotations with speaker tags 165 

Quotations without speaker tags 169 

Quotations with question marks 170 

Quotations with exclamation points 172 

Quotations with semicolons 172 

Quotations inside quotations 173 

Who Said That? Identifying Speaker Changes 175 

Using Sanitizing Quotation Marks 176 

Quoting Slang 177 

Punctuating Titles: When to Use Quotation Marks 178 

Chapter 14: The Pause That Refreshes: Commas 181 

Distinguishing Items: Commas in Series 182 

Separating a List of Descriptions 183 

You Talkin’ to Me? Direct Address 186 

Using Commas in Addresses and Dates 187 

Addressing addresses 187 

Punctuating dates 188 

Flying Solo: Introductory Words 190 

Chapter 15: Adding Information: Semicolons, Dashes, 

and Colons 191 

Gluing Complete Thoughts Together: Semicolons 191 

Using semicolorWilPfffci^MIfi’T. 192 

Separating items in a list with semicolons 194 




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Creating a Stopping Point: Colons 195 

Addressing a business letter 196 

Introducing lists 196 

Introducing long quotations 197 

Joining explanations 198 

Giving Additional Information — Dashes 199 

Chapter 16: CAPITAL LETTERS 203 

Capitalizing (or Not) References to People 203 

Addressing Chief Dogcatcher and other officials 204 

Writing about family relationships 205 

Capitalizing the Deity 207 

Capitalizing Geography: Directions, Places, and Languages 207 

Directions and areas of a country 207 

Capitalizing geographic features 208 

An exception to the rule on country names 208 

Tackling race and ethnicity 209 

Marking Seasons and Other Times 210 

Schooling: Courses, Years, and Subjects 210 

Writing Capitals in Book and Other Titles 212 

Concerning Historic Capitals: Events and Eras 213 

If U Cn Rd Ths, U Cn Abbreviate 214 

Giving the Last Word to the Poet 216 



Part W: Polishing Without Wax — 

The Finer Points of Grammar 219 

Chapter 17: Pronouns and Their Cases 221 

Me Like Tarzan: Choosing Subject Pronouns 221 

Compounding interest: Pairs of subjects 222 

Attracting appositives 223 

Picking pronouns for comparisons 225 

Connecting pronouns to linking verbs 226 

Using Pronouns as Direct and Indirect Objects 228 

Choosing objects for prepositions 228 

Seeing double causes problems 229 

Pronouns of Possession: No Exorcist Needed 230 

Dealing with Pronouns and “-Ing” Nouns 231 



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Table of Contents 

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xix 



Chapter 18: Fine-tuning Verbs 233 

Giving Voice to Verbs 233 

Making the Better Choice: Active Voice 234 

Putting It in Order: Sequence of Tenses 235 

Case 1: Simultaneous events — main verbs 236 

Case 2: Simultaneous events — verbals 236 

Case 3: Events at two different times in the past 237 

Case 4: More than two past events, all at different times 239 

Case 5: Two events in the future 240 

Case 6: Different times, different verb forms 241 

Reporting Information: The Verb Tells the Story 243 

Recognizing Eternal Truths: Statements That Are Always 
in Present Tense 245 

Chapter 19: Saying What You Want to Say: 

Descriptive Words and Phrases 247 

Ruining a Perfectly Good Sentence: Misplaced Descriptions 247 

Keeping Your Audience Hanging: Danglers 249 

Avoiding Confusing Descriptions 252 

Finding the Subject When Words Are Missing from the Sentence 253 

Chapter 20: Good, Better, Best: Comparisons 255 

Ending It with -Er or Giving It More 255 

Breaking the Rules: Irregular Comparisons 260 

Never More Perfect: Using Words That You Can’t Compare 261 

Leaving Your Audience in Suspense: Incomplete Comparisons 264 

Joe DiMaggio Played Better Than Any Baseball Player: 

Illogical Comparisons 266 

Getting Two for the Price of One: Double Comparisons 268 

Chapter 21: Parallels Without the Lines 269 

Constructing Balanced Sentences 269 

Shifting Grammar into Gear: Avoiding Stalled Sentences 273 

Steering clear of a tense situation 273 

Keeping your voice steady 274 

Knowing the right person 276 

Seeing Double: Conjunction Pairs 277 

Avoiding Improper Comparisons 281 



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English Grammar For Dummies 

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Part V: Rules Even l/our Great-Aunt's 

Grammar Teacher Didn't Knout 283 

Chapter 22: The Last Word on Verbs 285 

Getting a Feel for Everyday Verbs: The Indicative Mood 285 

Commanding Your Verbs: The Imperative Mood 286 

Discovering the Possibilities: The Subjunctive Mood 287 

Using subjunctives with “were” 287 

Using subjunctives with “had” 288 

Using subjunctives with “as though” 290 

Using subjunctives with commands, wishes, and requests 290 

Using subjunctives with “let us” 292 

I Can’t Help But Think This Rule Is Crazy: 

Deleting Double Negatives 293 

Can’t Hardly Understand This Rule: 

Yet Another Double Negative 294 

Chapter 23: The Last Word on Pronouns 297 

Knowing the Difference Between Who and Whom 297 

Trick #1: Horse and carriage 298 

Trick #2: Getting rhythm 299 

Studying Improper Antecedents 300 

Matching Verbs to Pronouns in Complicated Sentences 301 

This, That, and the Other: Clarifying Vague Pronoun References 302 

Its or Their? Selecting Pronouns for Collective Nouns 304 

Pronouns, Inc.: Using Pronouns with Company Names 307 

Chapter 24: The Last Word on Sentence Structure 309 

Understanding the Basics of Clause and Effect 309 

Getting the goods on subordinate and independent clauses 311 

Knowing the three legal jobs for subordinate clauses 313 

Untangling subordinate and independent clauses 315 

Deciding when to untangle clauses 316 

Putting your subordinate clauses in the right place 317 

Choosing the content for your subordinate clauses 318 

Getting Verbal 318 

Appreciating gerunds 318 

Working with infinitives 319 

Participating with a participle 320 

Spicing Up Boring Sentences with Clauses and Verbals 322 

The clause that refreshes 323 

Verbally speaking 323 



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Table of Contents 

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Chapter 25: The Last Word on Punctuation 325 

Making Your Point Clear with Commas 325 

Essential or extra? Your commas tell the tale 326 

Do your commas have appositive influence? 328 

Punctuating independently 329 

Using Those Dot-Dot-Dots 331 

Indicating missing words 331 

Showing hesitation 331 

H-y-p-h-e-n-a-t-i-n-g Made Easy 332 

Understanding the great divide 332 

Using hyphens for compound words 333 

Placing hyphens in numbers 334 

Utilizing the well-placed hyphen 334 

Sprinkling Parentheses and Brackets throughout Your Writing 335 

Slashing Your Sentences 336 

Part V 1 : The Part of Tens .337 

Chapter 26: Ten Ways Two to Improve Your Proofreading 339 

Read Backward 339 

Wait a While 340 

Read It Aloud 340 

Delete Half of the Commas 340 

Swap with a Friend 340 

Let the Computer Help 341 

Check the Verbs 341 

Check the Pronouns 341 

Know Your Typing Style 341 

The Usual Suspects 341 

Chapter 27: Ten Ways to Learn Better Grammar 343 

Read Good Books 343 

Watch Good TV Shows 343 

Peruse the News 344 

Read the Newspaper 344 

Flip through Magazines 344 

Visit Nerd Hangouts 345 

Check Out Strunk and White 345 

Listening to Authorities 345 

Reviewing Manuals of Style 345 

Surfing the Internet 346 

Index 347 

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xxii 



English Grammar For Dummies 

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Introduction 



Jm few years ago, a magazine sponsored a contest for the comment most 
v W likely to end a conversation. The winning entry? / teach English grammar. 
Just throw that line out at a party. Everyone around you will clam up or start 
saying whom. 



Why does grammar make everyone nervous? As an English teacher, I have 
to take part of the blame. Some of us make a big deal out of grammar in our 
classrooms, drilling the parts of speech, clauses, and verbals until our students 
beg for mercy. Centuries ago when I was in elementary school — which, by the 
way, was called grammar school in those days for very good reasons — I had 
to diagram sentences. It’s a wonder I ever learned to communicate at all by the 
time those lessons were over. 



Happily, you don’t have to learn all those technical terms of English grammar — 
and you certainly don’t have to diagram sentences — in order to speak and 
write correct English. In this book I tell you the tricks of the trade, the strate- 
gies that help you make the right decision when you’re facing such grammati- 
cal dilemmas as the choice between / and me, had gone and went, and so forth. 

I explain what you’re supposed to do, but I also tell you why a particular word 
is correct or incorrect. You won’t have to memorize a list of meaningless rules 
(well, maybe a couple from the punctuation chapter!) because when you 
understand the reason for a particular choice, you’ll pick the correct word 
automatically. 



About This Book 

In this book, I concentrate on what English teachers call the common errors. 

I tell you what’s what in the sentence, but I do it in logical, everyday (pardon 
the term) English, not in obscure terminology. You don’t have to read this 
book in order, though you can, and you don’t have to read the whole thing. 
Just browse through the table of contents and look for things that you often 
get wrong. For example, if you know that verbs are your downfall, check out 
Chapters 2 and 3 for the basics. Chapters 1 1 and 18 show you how to pick the 
correct verb in a variety of situations, and Chapter 22 gives you the equiva- 
lent of a doctorate in verbology. You decide how picky you want to be. 



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English Grammar For Dummies 

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HoW to Use This Book 

Each chapter in this book introduces some basic ideas and then shows you 
how to choose the correct sentence when faced with two or three alterna- 
tives. If I define a term — linking verbs, for example — I show you a practical 
situation in which identifying a linking verb helps you pick the right pronoun. 
I center the examples in the text so that you can find them easily. One good 
way to determine whether or not you need to read a particular section is to 
check the pop quizzes that are sprinkled around every chapter. If you get the 
right answer, you probably don’t need to read that section. If you’re puzzled, 
however, backtrack and read the chapter. Also, watch for Demon icons. They 
identify the little things — the difference between two similar words, com- 
monly misused words, and so on — that may sabotage your writing. 



What \!ou Are Not to Read 

Here and there throughout this book, you see some items marked with the 
Black Belt icon. No human being in the history of the world has ever needed 
to know those terms for any purpose connected with speaking and writing 
correct English. In fact, I recommend that you skip them and go skateboard- 
ing instead. For those of you who actually enjoy obscure terminology for the 
purpose of, say, clearing a room within ten seconds, the Black Belt icons define 
such exciting grammatical terms as subjective complement and participial 
phrase. Everyone else, fear not: These terms are clearly labeled and com- 
pletely skippable. Look for the Black Belt icons and avoid those paragraphs 
like the plague. 



Footish Assumptions 

I wrote English Grammar For Dummies with a specific person in mind. I 
assume that you, the reader, already speak English to some extent and that 
you want to speak it better. I also assume that you’re a busy person with 
better things to do than worry about who and whom. You want to speak and 
write well, but you don’t want to get a doctorate in English Grammar. (Smart 
move. Doctorates in English probably move you up on the salary scale less 
than any other advanced degree, except maybe Doctorates in Philosophy.) 

This book is for you if 

v 0 You want better grades. 

i 00 You aspire to a higher-paying or higher-status job. 
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Introduction 



u 0 You want your speech and writing to present you as an educated, 
intelligent person. 

u 0 You want a good score on the SATIIW, formerly known as the English 
Achievement Test. 

u 0 You want your writing and your speech to be clear and to say exactly 
what you mean. 

v 0 You want to polish your skills in English as a second language. 
v 0 You simply want to use better grammar. 



HoW This Book Is Organized 

The first two parts of this book cover the basics, the minimum for reasonably 
correct English. Part III addresses what English teachers call mechanics — 
not the people in overalls who aim grease guns at your car, but the nuts and 
bolts of writing: punctuation and capital letters. Parts IV and V hit the finer 
(okay, pickier) points of grammar, the ones that separate regular people from 
Official Grammarians. If you understand the information in this section, you’ll 
have a fine time finding mistakes in the daily paper. 

Here’s a more specific guide to navigating English Grammar For Dummies. 

Part 1: The Parts of Speech and Parts 
of the Sentence 

This part explains how to distinguish between the three Englishes — the 
breezy slang of friend-to-friend chat, the slightly more proper conversational 
language, and the I’m-on-my-best-behavior English. I explain the building 
blocks of a sentence, subjects and verbs, and show you how to put them 
together properly. In this part, I also provide a guide to the complete sen- 
tence, telling you what’s grammatically legal and what’s not. I also define 
objects and linking verb complements and show you how to use each effec- 
tively. 



Part 11: Avoiding Common Errors 

In this part, I describe the remaining members of Team Grammar — the other 
parts of speech that can make or break your writing. I show you how to join 
short, choppy sentences into longer, more fluent ones without incurring a 
visit from the grammar policed aiso^ tlxplain ' ffle two types of descriptive 
words and show you how the location of a description may alter the meaning 




Z| Enqlish Grammar For Dummies 

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of the sentence. Prepositions — the bane of many speakers of English as a 
second language — are in this part, too, as well as some tips for correct usage. 
Finally, in this part I tell you how to avoid mismatches between singular and 
plural words, by far the most common mistake in ordinary speech and writing. 
Part II also contains an explanation of pronoun gender. In addition, reading 
this section may also help you avoid sexist pronoun usage. 

Part 111: Mo Garage, But Plenty of 
Mechanics 

If you’ve ever asked yourself whether you need a comma or if you’ve ever 
gotten lost in quotation marks and semicolons, Part III is for you. I explain all 
the rules that govern the use of the worst invention in the history of human 
communication: the apostrophe. I also show you how to quote speech or 
written material and where to place the most common (and the most com- 
monly misused) punctuation mark, the comma. Lastly, I outline the ins and 
outs of capital letters: when you need them, when you don’t, and when 
they’re optional. 

Part IV: Polishing Without Wax — 

The Finer Points of Grammar 

Part IV inches up on the pickiness scale — not all the way to Grammar 
Heaven, but at least as far as the gate. In this part, I tell you the difference 
between subject and object pronouns and pronouns of possession. (You need 
an exorcist.) I also go into detail on verb tenses, explaining which words to 
use for all sorts of situations. I show you how to distinguish between active 
and passive verbs and how to use each type properly. I illustrate some 
common errors of sentence structure and tackle comparisons — both how to 
form them and how to insure that your comparisons are logical and com- 
plete. Finally, I explain parallelism, an English teacher’s term for balance and 
order in the sentence. 

Part V: Pules Even \lour Great-Aunt's 
Grammar Teacher Didn't Knout 

Anyone who masters the material in Part V has the right to wear a bun and 
tsk-tsk a lot. This part covers the moods of verbs (ranging from grouchy to 
just plain irritable) and explains how to avoid double negative errors. Part V 
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Introduction 



also gives you the last word on pronouns, those little parts of speech that 
make everyone’s life miserable. The dreaded who/whom section is in this 
part, as well as the explanation for all sorts of errors of pronoun reference. I 
explain subordinate clauses and verbals, which aren’t exactly a hot stock tip, 
but a way to bring more variety and interest to your writing. I also give you 
the lowdown on the most obscure punctuation rules. 



Part V 1 : The Part of Tens 

Part VI is the Part of Tens, which offers some quick tips for better grammar. 
Here I show you ten ways to fine-tune your proofreading skills. I also give you 
a quick summary of the top ten (some would call them the bottom ten) most 
common errors along with their corrections. Finally, I suggest ways (apart 
from English Grammar For Dummies') to improve your ear for proper English. 



Icons Used in This Book 

Wherever you see this icon, you’ll find helpful strategies for understanding 
the structure of the sentence or for choosing the correct word form. 



Not every grammar trick has a built-in trap, but some do. This icon tells you 
how to avoid common mistakes as you unravel a sentence. 



Think you know how to find the subject in a sentence or identify a pronoun? 
Take the pop quizzes located throughout this book to find out what you know 
and what you may want to learn. 

Keep your eye out for these little devils; they point out the difference 
between easily confused words and show you how to make your sentence 
say what you want it to say. 

Here’s where I get a little technical. If you master this information, you’re 
guaranteed to impress your oldest neighbor and bore all of your friends. 




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6 



English Grammar For Dummies _____ 

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Where to Go from Here 

Now that you know what’s what and where it is, it’s time to get started. 

Before you do, however, one last word. Actually, two last words: Trust your- 
self You already know a lot. If you’re a native speaker, you’ve communicated 
in English all of your life, including the years before you set foot in school and 
saw your first textbook. If English is an acquired language for you, you’ve 
probably already learned a fair amount of vocabulary and grammar, even if 
you don’t know the technical terms. For example, you already understand the 
difference between 

The dog bit Agnes. 

and 

Agnes bit the dog. 

You don’t need me to tell you which sentence puts the dog in the doghouse 
and which sentence puts Agnes in a padded room. So take heart. Browse the 
table of contents, take a few pop quizzes, and dip a toe into the Sea of 
Grammar. The water is fine. 



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The Parts of 
Speech and Parts 
of the Sentence 



The 5 th Wave By Rich Tennant 




Tws is A GREW Little piece, UogM 1 .! ] 

INTERESTING CWAFACfERy, TASCM/W& 

piPT une'.'. a real home ruh 1 .' one 
TOG -not ENoo&h Exclamation NWSWlI 






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In this part . . . 

^ o it's like, communication, y’know? 



Can you make a statement like that without bringing the 
grammar police to your door? Maybe. Read Chapter 1 for 
a discussion of formal and informal language and a guide 
to when each is appropriate. The rest of this part of the 
book explains the building blocks of the sentence. 

Chapter 2 shows you how to find the verb, and Chapter 3 
tells you what to do with it once you’ve got it. Chapter 4 
provides a road map to the subject of the sentence and 
explains the basics of matching subjects and verbs 
properly. Chapter 5 is all about completeness — why the 
sentence needs it and how to make sure that the sentence 
gets it. In Chapter 6, 1 explore the last building block of a 
sentence — the complement. 



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Chapter 1 

I Already Know How to Talk. Why 
Should I Study Grammar? 



In This Chapter 

Distinguishing between formal and informal English 
Understanding when following the rules is necessary 
Deciding when slang is appropriate 
Using computer grammar checkers properly 

:x « .* .y V r m 



\J ou may be reading this book for any of a number of reasons. Perhaps 
you’re in the cafeteria, hoping to impress a nearby English teacher — the 
one who recently told you that handing in the fifteen essays you’re missing will 
raise your grade all the way to F-. Or maybe you’re reading this book on a bus, 
hoping that such a scholarly pursuit will convince the love of your life, who is 
sitting across from you, that you’re a serious person and completely date- 
worthy. (Hey, it can happen.) Or you may be reading this book in the office 
lounge, assuming that your boss will glance over and decide that you want to 
improve yourself and therefore deserve a promotion. 

The most likely reason that you’re reading this book, however, is that you want 
to learn better grammar. In this chapter I show you how the definition of better 
grammar changes according to your situation, purpose, and audience. I also tell 
you what your computer can and can’t do to help you write proper English. 



Lidinq Better ulith Better Grammar 

The curtain goes up, and you step on stage. One deep breath, and you’re 
ready. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor to be speaking ... to speak ... to 
have spoken ... to you this evening. You clear your throat and go on. / offer 
my best efforts to whomever . . . whoever the committee decides . . . will decide 
should receive the nomination. You begin to sweat, but you go on. Now if 
everyone will rise to his . . ^WtWW n } v . s ) [ f& r ybG? r fket, we’ll sing the national 
anthem. Out of breath from sheer panic, you run off the stage and search fran- 
tically for a grammar book. 




Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Does this sound like you? Do your words turn into pretzels, twisting around 
themselves until you don’t know why you ever thought to open your mouth 
(or your computer word processing program)? If so, you have lots of com- 
pany. Nearly everyone in your class or office (or squadron or terrorist cell or 
whatever) has the same worries. 

Stuck in English class, you probably thought that grammar was invented just 
to give teachers something to test. But in fact grammar — or to be more pre- 
cise, formal grammar lessons — exists to help you express yourself clearly. 
Without a thorough knowledge of grammar, a little thread of doubt will weave 
its way across your speech and writing. Part of your mind will string words 
together, and another part will ask, Is that correct? Inevitably, the doubts will 
show. 

You should also learn grammar because, rightly or wrongly, your audience or 
readers will judge you by the words you use and the way you put them 
together. Ten minutes at the movies will show you the truth of this statement. 
Listen to the speech of the people on the screen. An uneducated character 
sounds different from someone with five diplomas on the wall. The dialogue 
reflects reality: Educated people follow certain rules when they speak and 
write. If you want to present yourself as an educated person, you have to 
follow those rules also. 



Deciding Which Grammar to Learn 

I can hear the groan already. Which grammar? You mean there’s more than 
one? Yes, there are actually several different types of grammar, including his- 
torical (how language has changed through the centuries) and comparative 
(comparing languages). Don’t despair; in English Grammar For Dummies, I 
deal with only two — the two you have to know in order to improve your 
speech and writing. 

Descriptive grammar gives names to things — the parts of speech and parts 
of a sentence. When you learn descriptive grammar, you understand what 
every word is (its part of speech) and what every word does (its function in 
the sentence). If you’re not careful, descriptive grammar can go overboard 
fast, and you end up saying things like “balloon” is the object of the gerund, in 
a gerund phrase that is acting as the predicate nominative of the linking verb 
“appear. ” Never fear: I wouldn’t dream of inflicting that level of terminology 
on you. However, there is one important reason to learn some grammar terms 
— to understand why a particular word or phrase is correct or incorrect. 

Functional grammar makes up the bulk of English Grammar For Dummies. 
Functional grammar tells you how words behave when they are doing their 

jobs properly. Functional grammar guides you to the right expression — the 
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Chapter 1: 1 Already $j(iy Should I Study Grammar? / / 



one that fits what you’re trying to say — by insuring that the sentence is put 
together correctly When you’re agonizing over whether to say / or me, you’re 
actually solving a problem of functional grammar. 

So here’s the formula for success: A little descriptive grammar plus a lot of 
functional grammar equals better grammar overall. 

distinguishing between the 
Three Engtishes 

Better grammar sounds like a great idea, but better is tough to pin down. 
Why? Because the language of choice depends on your situation. Here’s what 
I mean. Imagine that you’re hungry. What do you say? 

Wanna get something to eat? 

Do you feel like getting a sandwich? 

Will you accompany me to the dining room? 

These three statements illustrate the three Englishes of everyday life. I call 
them friendspeak, conversational English, and formal English. 

Before you choose, you need to know where you are and what’s going on. 
Most important, you need to know your audience. 




What is grammar anyway? 



In the Middle Ages, grammar meant the study 
of Latin, because Latin was the language of 
choice for educated people. In fact, grammar 
was so closely associated with Latin that the 
word was also used to refer to any kind of learn- 
ing. (You may have heard people from earlier 
generations — your grandparents, perhaps — 
talk about their grammar school, not their ele- 
mentary school. The term grammar school is a 
leftover from the old days. The very old days.) 



rules, grammar also means a set of standards 
that you have to follow in order to speak and 
write correctly. This set of standards is also 
called usage, as in standard and non-standard 
usage. Standard usage is the one that earns an 
A grade. It is the commonly accepted, correct 
patterns of speech and writing that mark an 
educated person in our society. You'll find stan- 
dard usage in government documents, in news- 
papers and magazines, and in textbooks. 



However, these days grammar is the study of , , , 

language, specifically, how words are put ® ac e . s .P^ . 
together to create meaning. Because of all of . . 
those obsessive English teachers andwthwirvatcTimS^Bffl^^tri 



Non-standard usage draws red ink from a 
teacher's pen faster than a bullet cuts through 
butter. It includes slang, dialect, and just plain 







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U/anrn get something to eat ) Friendspeak 

Friendspeak is informal and filled with slang. Its sentence structure breaks all 
the rules that English teachers love. It’s the language of / know you and you 
know me and we can relax together. In friendspeak the speakers are on the 
same level. They have nothing to prove to each other, and they’re comfort- 
able with each other’s mistakes. In fact, they make some mistakes on pur- 
pose, just to distinguish their personal conversation from what they say on 
other occasions. Here’s a conversation in friendspeak: 

Me and him are going to the gym. Wanna come? 

He’s like, I did 60 pushups, and I go like, no way. 

I mean, what’s he think? We’re stupid or something? Sixty? More like one. 
Yeah, I know. In his dreams he did 60. 

I doubt that the preceding conversation makes perfect sense to many people, 
but the participants understand it quite well. Because they both know the 
whole situation (the guy they’re talking about gets muscle cramps after .4 
seconds of exercise), they can talk in shorthand. 

I don’t deal with friendspeak in this book. You already know it. In fact, you’ve 
probably created a version of it with your best buds. 

bo you feet tike getting a sandwich) 
Conversational English 

A step up from friendspeak is conversational English. Although not quite friend- 
speak, conversational English includes some friendliness. Conversational 
English doesn’t stray too far from your English class rules, but it does break 
some. For example, it says that you can relax, but not completely, and it’s the 
tone of most everyday speech, especially between equals. Conversational 
English is — no shock here — usually for conversations, not for writing. 
Specifically, conversational English is appropriate in these situations: 

u 0 Chats with family members, neighbors, acquaintances 
I u 0 Informal conversations with teachers and co-workers 
, v 0 Friendly conversations (if there are any) with supervisors 
:< Notes and e-mails to friends 
v 0 Comments in Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards, and so on 

1 Friendly letters to relatives 

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Chapter 1: 1 Already Know Howto Talk. Why Should I Study Grammar? 

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Phat grammar 



Psst! Want to be in the in-crowd? Easy. Just 
create an out-crowd and you're all set How do 
you create an out-crowd? Manufacture a spe- 
cial language (slang) with your friends that no 
one else understands, at least until the media 
picks it up. You and your pals are on the inside, 
talking about a bad song that everyone likes 
(barf means good). Everyone else is on the out- 
side, wondering how to get the 477 (informa- 
tion). Should you use slang in your writing? 
Probably not unless you're sending an e-mail or 
a personal note to a good friend. The goal of 



writing and speaking is communication. Also, 
because slang changes so quickly, even a short 
time after you've written something, the mean- 
ing may be obscure. Instead of cutting-edge, 
you sound dated. 

When you talk or write in slang, you also risk 
sounding uneducated. In fact, sometimes break- 
ing the usual rules is the point of slang. In general, 
you should make sure that your readers know 
that you understand the rules before you start 
breaking them (the rules, not the readers) safely. 



Conversational English has a breezy sound. Letters are dropped in contrac- 
tions (don’t, I’ll, would’ve, and so forth). You also drop words ( Got a match ? 
See you later. Be there soon, and so on). In written form, conversational 
English relaxes the punctuation rules too. Sentences run together, dashes 
connect all sorts of things, and half sentences pop up regularly. I’m using con- 
versational English to write this book because I’m pretending that I’m chat- 
ting with you, the reader, not teaching grammar in a classroom situation. 

(Mill you accompany me to the dininy 
room ) Formal Enylish 

You’re now at the pickiest end of the language spectrum: formal, grammati- 
cally correct speech and writing. Formal English displays the fact that you 
have an advanced vocabulary and a knowledge of etiquette. You may use 
formal English when you have less power, importance, and/or status than the 
other person in the conversation. Formal English shows that you’ve trotted 
out your best behavior in his or her honor. You may also speak or write in 
formal English when you have more power, importance, and/or status than 
the other person. The goal of using formal English is to impress, to create a 
tone of dignity, or to provide a suitable role model for someone who is still 
learning. Situations that call for formal English include: 

»> Business letters (from or between businesses as well as from individuals 
to businesses) 

Letters to government officials 

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v 0 Office memos 








Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Reports 

Homework 

Notes or letters to teachers 
Speeches, presentations, oral reports 

Important conversations (for example, job interviews, college inter- 
views, parole hearings, congressional inquiries, inquisitions, sessions 
with the principal in which you explain that unfortunate incident with 
the stapler, and so on) 

Think of formal English as a business suit. If you’re in a situation where you 
want to look your best, you’re also in a situation where your words matter. In 
business, homework, or any situation in which you’re being judged, use 
formal English. 



Using the Right English 
at the Right Time 




Which type of English do you speak? Friendspeak, conversational English, or 
formal English? Probably all of them. (See preceding section for more infor- 
mation.) If you’re like most people, you switch from one to another without 
thinking, dozens of times each day. Chances are, the third type of English — 
formal English — is the one that gives you the most trouble. In fact, it’s prob- 
ably why you bought this book. (Okay, there is one more possibility that I 
haven’t mentioned yet. Maybe your nerdy uncle, the one with ink stains on 
his nose, gave English Grammar For Dummies to you for Arbor Day and you’re 
stuck with it. But you’re not playing a heavy-metal CD at high volume and 
surfing the Internet, so you must be reading the book. Therefore, you’ve at 
least acknowledged that you have something to think about, and I’m betting 
that it’s formal English.) All the grammar lessons in this book deal with 
formal English, because that’s where the problems are fiercest and the 
rewards for knowledge are greatest. 

Which is correct? 

A. Hi, Ms. Sharkface! What’s up? Here’s the 41 1. 1 didn’t do no homework last 
night — too much going on. See ya! Love, Legghorn 



B. Dear Ms. Sharkface, 



Just a note to let you know that I’ve got no homework today. Had a lot to do 
last night! I’ll explain later! 



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Chapter t: I Already Kn^yy v H^^^ it I^. c V)(|iy Should I Study Grammar? 




Your friend, 

Legghorn 

C. Dear Ms. Sharkface: 

I was not able to do my homework last night because of other pressing 
duties. I will speak with you about this matter later. 

Sincerely, 

Legghorn 

Answer: The correct answer depends upon a few factors. How willing are you 
to be stuck in the corner of the classroom for the rest of the year? If your 
answer is very willing, send note A, which is written in friendspeak. (By the 
way, the 411 is slang for “information.”) Does your teacher come to school in 
jeans and sneakers? Does he or she have the self-image of a 1960s hippie? If 
so, note B is acceptable. Note B is written in conversational English. Is your 
teacher prim and proper, expecting you to follow the Rules? If so, note C, 
which is written in formal English, is your best bet. 

Retying on Computer Grammar Checkers 
Is Not Enough 

Your best friend — the one who’s greasing the steps to the cafeteria while 
you’re reading English Grammar For Dummies — may tell you that learning 
proper grammar in the third millennium is irrelevant because computer 
grammar checkers make human knowledge obsolete. Your friend is wrong 
about the grammar programs, and the grease is a very bad idea also. 

It is comforting to think that a little green or red line will tell you when you’ve 
made an error and that a quick mouse-click will show you the path to perfec- 
tion. Comforting, but unreal. English has a half million words, and you can 
arrange those words a couple of gazillion ways. No program can catch all of 
your mistakes, and most programs identify errors that aren’t actually wrong. 

Spelling is also a problem. Every time I type verbal, the computer squawks. 
But verbal — a grammar term meaning a word that comes from a verb but 
does not function as a verb — is in the dictionary. Nor can the computer tell 
the difference between homonyms — words that sound alike but have differ- 
ent meanings and spelling. For example, if I type 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Aren't you glad you don't have to do this? 

Imagine that you're in fifth grade in a dusty class- function of each word and how the word relates 
room, counting the number of nano-seconds to others in the sentence. The theory is correct; 
until recess. Ms. Sharkface assigns yet another diagramming actually does help you see the 
page of unbelievably boring work. Before you sentence. Unfortunately, it also forces you to 
pass out (of the room or of reality, depending spend a great deal of time drawing little lines 
upon the length of your lesson), you take out a and deciding non-language-related issues, 
ruler. Yes, a ruler, and no, it's not math class, such as whether a particular section should be 
Ms. Sharkface is one of a long line of English straight or tilted. Just to show you how lucky 
teachers who teach sentence structure with you are that you don't have to diagram, here's a 
diagramming. sentence and its diagram. 

Diagramming \s still in use, but its heyday has Sentence: When Lochness is pooped and 
long since passed. The theory of diagramming yearns for vacation, he goestospycamp.com, if 
is that a picture helps students understand the he can pay for it. 



he goes 




Eye through the bawl at hymn, but it went threw the window pain instead. 

the computer underlines nothing. However, I was actually trying to say 

I threw the ball at him, but it went through the window pane instead. 

In short, the computer knows some grammar and spelling, but you have to 
, , | . www.watcntvsitcoms.com 

know the rest. 












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Chapter 2 

Verbs: The Heart of the Sentence 

In This Chapter 

Knowing the difference between linking verbs and action verbs 
Finding the verb 

Using helping verbs correctly and understanding how infinitives differ from verbs 



/ hirik about a sentence this way: A sentence is a flatbed truck. You pile all 
of your ideas on the truck, and the truck takes the meaning to your audi- 
ence (your reader or your listener). The verb of the sentence is a set of tires 
for the truck. Without the verb, you may get your point across, but you’re 
going to have a bumpy ride. 

In other words, every sentence needs a verb. The verb is what the sentence 
rests on and what gives the sentence movement. Verbs are the heart of the 
sentence because you start with the verb when you want to do anything to 
your sentence — including correct it. And as the old song goes, “y° u gotta 
have heart.” 

Verbs come in all shapes and sizes: linking and action; helping verb and main 
verb, regular and irregular; singular and plural; and present, past, and future. 
In this chapter, I unravel the first two categories — linking and action, helping 
verb and main verb — and show you how to choose the right verb for each 
sentence. 



Unking Verbs: The Giant Equal Sign 

Linking verbs are also called being verbs because they express states of 
being — what is, will be, or was. Here’s where algebra intersects with English. 
You can think of linking verbs as giant equal signs plopped into the middle of 
your sentence. For example, you can think of the sentence 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Legghorn’s uncle is a cannibal with a taste for finger food. 



as 



Legghorn’s uncle = a cannibal with a taste for finger food. 
Or, in shortened form, 



Legghorn’s uncle = a cannibal 

Just as in an algebra equation, the word is links two ideas and says that they 
are the same. Thus, is is a linking verb. Here are more linking verbs: 



Lulu will be angry when she hears about the missing bronze tooth. 
Lulu = angry (will be is a linking verb) 

Lochness was the last surfer to leave the water when the tidal wave 
approached. 

Lochness = last surfer (was is a linking verb) 

Even in the dark, Lucrezia’s red hair and orange eyes were completely 
visible. 

hair and eyes = visible (were is a linking verb) 

Ludwig has been depressed ever since the fall of the House of Usher. 
Ludwig = depressed (has been is a linking verb) 

Earwigs are a constant problem for that pink elephant. 

Earwigs = problem (are is a linking verb) 




You may wonder (okay, only if you’re having a no-news day) whether become 
is a linking verb. Grammarians argue this point often (maybe because they 
tend to have no-news lives). The problem is that become is part being, part 
action. For example: 



Zud’s single eyebrow becomes obvious only when he steps into the light. 



On the one hand, you may say that 



eyebrow = obvious 



but you may also say that the sentence shows action. Zud’s single eyebrow is 
hidden and then exposed. 



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^Chapter t2:Verbs: The Heart of the Sentence 



So what is become — an action or being? A little of each. In the real world, the 
answer doesn’t matter unless you’re completing the sentence with a pro- 
noun. (See “Placing the Proper Pronoun in the Proper Place,” later in this 
chapter.) Frankly, I can’t think of any sentence with become as a verb that 
ends with a pronoun. Well, except one: 

“Moonlight becomes you,” declared Legghorn as he strummed a guitar 
under Lola’s window. 

However, in this sentence the verb means to look attractive on, to suit. 
Therefore, becomes in this sample sentence is definitely an action verb. 



Being or l inking — What's in a name ? 

In the preceding section, you may have noticed that all the linking verbs in 
the sample sentences are forms of the verb to be, which is (surprise, sur- 
prise) how they got the name being verbs. When I was a kid (sometime before 
they invented the steam engine), these verbs were called copulative, from a 
root word meaning “join.” However, copulative is out of style with English 
teachers these days (perhaps because you can also use the root for words 
referring to sex). I prefer the term linking because some equal-sign verbs are 
not forms of the verb to be. Check out these examples: 

With his foot-long fingernails and sly smile, Lochinvar seemed threatening. 
Lochinvar = threatening ( seemed is a linking verb) 

A jail sentence for the unauthorized use of a comma appears harsh, 
jail sentence = harsh ( appears is a linking verb in this sentence) 

The penalty for making a grammar error remains severe, 
penalty = severe (remains is a linking verb in this sentence) 

Lochness stays silent whenever monsters are mentioned. 

Lochness = silent (stays is a linking verb in this sentence) 

Seemed, appears, remains, and stays are similar to forms of the verb to be in 
that they express states of being. They simply add shades of meaning to the 
basic concept. You may, for example, say that 

With his foot-long fingernails and sly smile, Lochinvar was threatening. 

But now the statement is more definite. Seemed leaves room for doubt. 
Similarly, remains (in the third sample sentence) adds a time dimension to 
the basic expression of beilff^yH^ c i l ^ 1 Sft l ffS ffl J [^)lies that the penalty was and 
still is severe. 




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No matter how you name it, any verb that places an equal sign in the 
sentence is a being, linking, or copulative verb. 



SaVorinq sensory Verbs 

Sensory verbs — verbs that express information you receive through the 
senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and so forth — may also be linking 
verbs: 



Two minutes after shaving, all of Legghorn’s three chins feel scratchy, 
all of Legghorn’s three chins = scratchy ( feel is a linking verb) 

Lola’s piano solo sounds horrible, like barking inside a paint can. 
piano = horrible (sounds is a linking verb) 

The ten-year-old lasagna in your refrigerator smells disgusting. 

lasagna = disgusting ( smells is a linking verb) 

The ten-year-old lasagna in your refrigerator also looks disgusting, 
lasagna = disgusting ( looks is a linking verb) 



Needless to say, the ten-year-old lasagna in your refrigerator tastes great! 
lasagna = great ( tastes is a linking verb) 




Some verbs, especially those that refer to the five senses, may be linking 
verbs, but only if they act as an equal sign in the sentence. If they aren’t 
equating two ideas, they aren’t linking verbs. In the preceding example sen- 
tence about Legghorn’s chins, feel is a linking verb. Here’s a different sen- 
tence with the same verb: 



With their delicate fingers, Lulu and Lochness feel Legghorn’s chins. 
In this sentence, feel is not a linking verb because you’re not saying that 
Lulu and Lochness = chins. 




Instead, you’re saying that Lulu and Lochness don’t believe that Legghorn 
shaved, so they went stubble hunting. 

Which sentence has a linking verb? 

A. That annoying new clock sounds the hour with a recorded cannon shot. 



B. That annoying^wveldtlM0urRl®PeKtremely loud at four o’clock in the 
morning. 




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Answer: Sentence B has the linking verb. In sentence B, clock = extremely 
loud. In sentence A, the clock is doing something — sounding the hour — not 
being. (It’s also waking up the whole neighborhood, but that idea isn’t in the 
sentence.) 

Try another. Which sentence has a linking verb? 

A. Ludwig stays single only for very short periods of time. 

B. Stay in the yard, Fido, or I’ll cut your dog-biscuit ration in half! 

Answer: Sentence A has the linking verb. In sentence A, Ludwig = single (at 
least for the moment — he’s asking Ludmilla to marry him as you read this 
sentence). In sentence B, Fido is being told to do something — to stay in the 
backyard — clearly an action. 




Linking verbs connect the subject and the subject complement. For more on 
complements, see Chapter 6. For the truly terminology-obsessed only: two 
other names for subject complements are predicate nominative and predicate 
adjective. 




Here is a list of the most common linking verbs: 

v* Forms of to be: am, are, is, was, were, will be, shall be, has been, have 
been, had been, could be, should be, would be, might have been, could 
have been, should have been, shall have been, will have been, must have 
been, must be. 



w 0 Sensory verbs: look, sound, taste, smell, feel. 

v 0 Words that express shades of meaning in reference to a state of being: 
appear, seem, grow, remain, stay. 



Completing Linking Verb Sentences 
Correcttg 

A linking verb begins a thought, but it needs another word to complete the 
thought. Unless all your friends have ESP (extrasensory perception), you 
can’t walk around saying things like 

President Murgatroyd is 

or 

The best day for the WjMffifeiitcoms.com 



and expect people to know what you mean. 




22 Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Due to a grammar error 



The picnic has been cancelled due to? because 
of? the arrival of killer sparrows from their 
Southern nesting grounds. 

Okay, which one is correct — due to or because 
of? the answer is because of. According to a 
rule that people ignore more and more every day: 

i s> Due to describes nouns or pronouns. It may 
follow a linking verb if it gives information 
about the subject. (See "Linking Verbs: The 
Giant Equal Sign," earlier in the chapter, for 
more information.) 

Because of is a description of an action. 
(See "Lights! Camera! Action Verb!" later in 
this chapter for information on action verbs.) 

The semi-logical reasoning that underlies this 
rule draws you deep into grammatical trivia, so 
keep reading only if you're daring (or bored). 
Due to, by definition, means "owing to." Owing 
is an adjective, and an adjective is a description 
of nouns and pronouns. In a linking verb sen- 
tence, the subject (always a noun or pronoun) 
may be linked to a description following the 
verb. An example: 



You have three possible completions for a linking verb. One is a description: 

After running 15 miles in high heels, Ludmilla’s thigh muscles are tired. 

thigh muscles = tired (tired is a description, an adjective in grammatical 
terms) 

Ludmilla’s high heels are stunning, especially when they land on your foot, 
high heels = stunning ( stunning is a description, also called an adjective) 

Oscar’s foot, wounded by Ludmilla’s heels, seems particularly painful. 
foot = painful (painful is a description, an adjective) 

Lola’s solutionvvtw.sMptife'fiisciaDB’sctKaes together, is not very helpful. 



Lola's mania for fashion is due to her 
deprived upbringing in an all-polyester 
household. 

Due to her deprived upbringing in an all-polyester 
household describes mania. 

Because of and on account of describe an 
action, usually answering the question why. An 
example: 

The bubble-gum gun that Ratrug likes 
to carry is no longer being manufact- 
ured because of protests from the dental 
association. 

Why is the gun no longer being manufactured? 
Because of protests from the dental association. 

In real life (that is to say, in everyday conversa- 
tional English), due to and because of are inter- 
changeable. When you need your most formal, 
most correct language, be careful with this pair! 
One easy solution (easier than remembering 
which phrase is which) is to avoid them entirely 
and simply add because with a subject-verb pair. 




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er 2: Verbs: The Heart of the Sentence 

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23 



solution = helpful (helpful is a description, an adjective. The other 
descriptive words, not and very, describe helpful, not solution.) 

You may also complete a linking verb equation with a person, place, or thing — 
a noun, in grammatical terms. Here are some examples: 

The most important part of a balanced diet is popcorn. 

part of a balanced diet = popcorn (popcorn is a thing, and therefore a 
noun) 

Lulu will be president of the Popcorn Club someday. 

Lulu = president (president is a noun) 

Legghorn’s nutritional consultant has always been a complete fraud. 
Legghorn’s nutritional consultant = fraud (fraud is a noun) 

Similarly, sometimes you complete a linking verb sentence with a pronoun, a 
word that substitutes for the name of a person, place, or thing. For example: 

The winner of the all-state spitball contest is you! 

winner = you (you is a substitute for the name of the winner, and there- 
fore a pronoun) 

Whoever put glue in the teapot is someone with a very bad sense of 
humor. 

Whoever put glue in the teapot = someone (someone is a substitute for 
the name of the unknown prankster and therefore a pronoun) 

You can’t do much wrong when you complete linking verb sentences with 
descriptions or with nouns. However, you can do a lot wrong when you com- 
plete a linking verb sentence with a pronoun. In the next section, I show you 
how to avoid common linking verb-pronoun errors. 

Placing the Proper Pronoun 
in the Proper Place 

How do you choose the correct pronoun for a sentence with a linking verb? 

Think of a linking verb sentence as reversible. That is, the pronoun you put 

after a linking verb should be the same kind of pronoun that you put before a 

linking verb. First, however, I give you an example with a noun, where you 

can’t make a mistake. Read these sentence pairs: 

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Ruggles is a resident of Red Gap. 

A resident of Red Gap is Ruggles. 

Lulu was a resident of Beige Gap. 
A resident of Beige Gap was Lulu. 



Both sentences in each pair mean the same thing, and both are correct. Now 
look at pronouns: 

The winner of the election is him! 

Him is the winner of the election! 

Uh oh. Something’s wrong. You don’t say him is, unless you’re in an old Tarzan 
movie. You say he is. Because you have a linking verb (is), you must put the 
same word after the linking verb that you would put before the linking verb. 
Try it again: 

The winner of the election is he! 

He is the winner of the election! 



Now you’ve got the correct ending for your sentence. 




If you pay attention to linking verbs, you’ll choose the right pronouns for 
your sentence. Subject pronouns are /, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, and who- 
ever. Pronouns that are not allowed to be subjects include me, him, her, us, 
them, whom, and whomever. 

Remember that in the previous examples, I discuss formal English, not con- 
versational English. In conversational English, this exchange is okay: 

Who’s there? 



It is me. 



Who’s there? 

It’s me. 

In formal English, the exchange goes like this: 

Who is there? 

It is I. 



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Chapter 2: Verbs: The Heart of the Sentence 

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25 



Because of the linking verb is, you want the same kind of pronoun before and 
after the linking verb. You can’t start a sentence with me (unless, as I said 
earlier, you’re in a Tarzan movie). But you can start a sentence with /. 

Now you’ve probably, with your sharp eyes, found a flaw here. You can’t 
reverse the last reply and say 

I is it. 



/takes a different verb — am. Both is and am are forms of the verb to be — 
one of the most peculiar creations in the entire language. So yes, you some- 
times have to adjust the verb when you reverse a sentence with a form of to 
be in it. But the idea is the same; / can be a subject. Me can’t. 




Pronouns are divided into groups called cases. One group, the nominative or 
subject case, includes all the pronouns that may be subjects. The pronoun 
that follows the linking verb should also be in nominative, or subject, case. 
Another group of pronouns, those in objective case, acts as objects. Avoid 
object pronouns after linking verbs. These are a few examples of terminology 
designed by grammarians with nothing better to do. (For more information 
on pronoun case, see Chapter 17.) 



Lights! Camera! Action Verb! 

Linking verbs are important, but unless you’re in some sort of hippie com- 
mune left over from the Sixties, you just can’t sit around being all the time. 
You have to do something. It is here that action verbs come into the picture. 
Everything that is not being is action, at least in the verb world. Unlike the 
giant equal sign associated with linking verbs (see “Linking Verbs: The Giant 
Equal Sign,” earlier in the chapter), something happens with an action verb: 



Drusilla slapped the offending pig right on the snout. ( Slapped is an action 
verb.) 

Wynfred will steal third base as soon as his sneezing fit ends. ( Will steal 
and ends are action verbs.) 

According to the teacher, Ruggles has shot at least 16 spitballs in the last 
ten minutes. ( Has shot is an action verb.) 




You can define action verbs as all the verbs that don’t express being. Don’t 
let the name action fool you. Some action verbs aren’t particularly energetic: 
think, sit, stay, have, sleep, dream, and so forth. Besides describing my ideal 
vacation, these words are also action verbs! Think of the definition this way: 
if the verb is not a giant equal sign (a linking verb), it’s an action verb. 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Getting by With a Little Help 
from My Verbs 

You’ve probably noticed that some of the verbs I’ve identified throughout 
this chapter are single words and others are made up of several words. The 
extra words are called helping verbs. They don’t carry out the trash or dust 
the living room, but they do help the main verb express meaning, usually 
changing the time, or tense , of the action. (For more on tense, see Chapter 3.) 

Here are some sentences with helping verbs: 

Allergia will have sung five arias from that opera by the time her recorder 
runs out of tape and her listeners run out of patience. 

(In will have sung, sung is the main verb; will and have are helping verbs; 
runs and run are both main verbs without helping verbs.) 

Legghorn should have refused to play the part of the villain, but his ego 
simply would not be denied. 

(In should have refused, refused is the main verb; should and have are 
helping verbs; in would be denied, denied is the main verb; would and be 
are helping verbs.) 




Distinguishing between helping verbs and main verbs isn’t particularly 
important, as long as you get the whole thing when you’re identifying the 
verb in a sentence. If you find only part of the verb, you may confuse action 
verbs with linking verbs. You want to keep these two types of verbs straight 
when you choose an ending for your sentence, as I explain in “Placing the 
Proper Pronoun in the Proper Place,” earlier in the chapter. 



To decide whether you have an action verb or a linking verb, look at the main 
verb, not at the helping verbs. If the main verb expresses action, the whole 
verb is action, even if one of the helpers is a form of to be. For example: 



is going 
will be sung 
has been painted 
should be strangled 



are all action verbs, not linking verbs, because going, sung, painted, and stran- 
gled express action. 



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The Heart of the Sentence 27 



Pop the Question: Locating the Verb 

A scientific study by a blue-ribbon panel of experts found that 90 percent of 
all the errors in a sentence occurred because the verb was misidentified. 
Okay, there was no study. I made it up! But it is true that when you try to 
crack a sentence, you should always start by identifying the verb. To find the 
verb, read the sentence and ask two questions: 

v* What’s happening? 

u* What is? (or, What word is a “giant equal sign”?) 




If you get an answer to the first question, you have an action verb. If you 
get an answer to the second question, you have a linking verb. 

For example, in the sentence 

Archie flew around the room and then swooped into his cage for a bird- 
seed snack. 

you ask “What’s happening?” and your answer is flew and swooped. Flew and 
swooped are action verbs. 

If you ask, “What is?” you get no answer, because there’s no linking verb in 
the sentence. 

Try another: 

Ludmilla’s new tattoo will be larger than her previous fifteen tattoos. 

What’s happening? Nothing. You have no action verb. What is? Will be. Will 
be is a linking verb. 

sentences. For extra 






^ Pop the question and find 
> f S credit, identify the verbs as action or linking. 





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A. Ludmilla scratched the cat almost as hard as the cat had scratched her. 

B. After months of up and down motion, Lester is taking the elevator side- 
ways, just for a change of pace. 

C. The twisted frown on Legghorn’s face seems strange because of the 
joyful background music. 

Answers: A. scratched is an action verb, had scratched is an action verb. B. is 
taking is an action verb. C. seems is a linking verb. 

Strictly speaking, the term verb is the name of the part of speech. In the 
sentence, the action or being is expressed by the predicate. (The subject is 
who or what you’re talking about and the predicate is what you’re saying 
about the subject.) The complete predicate is everything that you say about 
the subject. The simple predicate is the plain old verb. I’ve never been able to 
figure out why anyone would want to identify the complete predicate. The 
simple predicate, yes, but the simple predicate is the same as the verb, so 
you may as well call it the verb and be done with it. 

Forget To Be or Mot To Be: Infinitives 
Are Mot Verbs 

Here and there in this chapter I say “all forms of the verb to be." But to be is 
not actually a verb. In fact, it’s an infinitive. An infinitive is to + a verb (yet 
another mixing of math and English). Here are some examples: 

to laugh 
to sing 
to burp 
to write 
to be 

Infinitives are the great-grandparents of verb families. Everything in the verb 
family descends from the infinitive, but like the retired, elderly relative who 
sits on the porch all day, infinitives don’t perform any verb jobs in a sen- 
tence. In fact, if they do show up in the sentence, they take on a different job. 
(Sort of like a retired postmaster who refuses to carry a letter anywhere but 
plays racquetball all afternoon.) Infinitives may act as subjects or objects. 
They may also describe other words in the sentence. I discuss infinitives in 
more detail in Chapter 24. 




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The Heart of the Sentence 29 




The way it's suppose to be? 



Do these sentences look familiar? 

Lola was suppose to take out the garbage, 
but she refused to do so, saying that 
garbage removal was not part of her cre- 
ative development. 

Legghorn use to take out the trash, but after 
that unfortunate encounter with a raccoon 
and an empty potato chip bag, he is reluc- 
tant to venture near the cans. 

Lochness is suppose to do all kinds of 
things, but of course he never does any- 
thing he is suppose to do. 

If these sentences look familiar, look again. 
Each one is wrong. Check out the italicized 
verbs: was suppose, use, and is suppose. All 
represent what people hear but not what the 



speaker is actually trying to say. The correct 
words to use in these instances are supposed 
and used — past tense forms. Here are the cor- 
rect sentences: 

Lola was supposedto take out the garbage, 
but she refused to do so, saying that 
garbage removal was not part of her cre- 
ative development 

Legghorn used to take out the trash, but 
after that unfortunate encounter with a rac- 
coon and an empty potato chip bag, he is 
reluctant to venture near the cans. 

Lochness is supposed to do all kinds of 
things, but of course he never does any- 
thing he is supposed to do. 




The most important thing to know about infinitives is this: When you pop the 
question to find the verb, don’t choose an infinitive as your answer. If you do, 
you’ll miss the real verb or verbs in the sentence. Other than that, forget 
about infinitives! 

Okay, you can’t forget about infinitives completely. Here’s something else you 
should know about infinitives in formal English: Don’t split them in half. For 
example, you commonly see sentences like the following: 

Mudbud vowed to really study if he ever got the chance to take the flight 
instructor exam again. 



This example is common, but incorrect. Grammatically, to study is a unit — 
one infinitive. You’re not supposed to separate its two halves. Now that you 
know this rule, read the paper. Everybody splits infinitives, even the grayest, 
dullest papers with no comics whatsoever. So you have two choices. You can 
split infinitives all you want, or you can follow the rule and feel totally supe- 
rior to the professional journalists. The choice is yours. 



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30 



Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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kOits 




Two not for the price of one 



Here's a spelling tip: the following words are 
often written as one — incorrectly! Always 
write them as two separate words: a lot, all 
right, each other. 

Example: Ludmilla has a lot of trouble distin- 
guishing between the sounds of "I" and "r," so 
she tries to avoid the expression “all right" 
whenever possible. Ludmilla and Ludwig (who 
also has pronunciation trouble), help each other 
prepare state-of-the-union speeches every 
January. 

Here's another tip. You can write the following 
words as one or two words, but with two differ- 
ent meanings: 

Altogether means "extremely, entirely." 

All together means "as one." 

Example: Lochivar was altogether disgusted 
with the way the entire flock of dodo birds sang 
all together. 

Another pair of tricky words: 

Sometime means "at a certain point in time." 

Some time means "a period of time." 

Example: Lochness said that he would visit Lulu 
sometime : but not now because he has to spend 
some time in jail for murdering the English lan- 
guage. 



Still more: 

Someplace means "an unspecified place" and 
describes an action. 

Someplace means "a place" and refers to a 
physical space. 

Example: Lochness screamed, "I have to go 
someplace now!" Lulu thinks he headed for 
some place near the railroad station where the 
pizza is hot and no one asks any questions. 

And another pair: 

Everyday means "ordinary, common." 

Every day means "occurring daily." 

Ludwig loves everyday activities such as cook- 
ing, cleaning, and sewing. He has the palace 
staff perform all of those duties everyday. 

Last set, I promise: 

Anyway means "in any event" 

Any way means "a way, some sort of way." 

Example: “Anyway, "added Ratrug, "I don'tthink 
there is anyway to avoid jail for tax evasion." 



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Chapter 3 

Relax! Understanding Verb Tense 

In This Chapter 

Expressing time with verbs 
: Understanding the meanings of verb tenses 
I - Applying the correct verb tenses 

Forming the most common irregular verbs 



1# ou can tell time lots of ways: look at a clock, dial a number and listen to 
that annoying mechanical voice (“At the tone the time will be. . . or 
check the verb. The verb shows the action or state of being in the sentence. 

In English, the verb also shows the time the action or “being” took place. (For 
more information on finding the verb in a sentence, see Chapter 2.) 

In some lucky languages — Thai, for example — the verb has basically one 
form. Whether the sentence is about the past, the present, or the future doesn’t 
matter; the verb is the same. Extra words — yesterday, tomorrow, now, and so 
forth — indicate the time. Not so in English (sigh). In English, six different 
tenses of verbs express time. In other words, each tense places the action or 
the state of being of the sentence at a point in time. 

Before you start complaining about learning six tenses, spend a moment 
being grateful that you don’t speak Latin. In case you’re wondering why it’s a 
dead language that no one speaks anymore, each verb in Latin has 120 differ- 
ent forms! 

Three of the six English tenses are called simple. In this chapter, I explain the 
simple tenses in some detail, such as the difference between I go and / am 
going. The other three tenses are called perfect. (Trust me, the perfect tenses 
are far from it.) I touch upon the basics of the perfect tenses: present perfect, 
past perfect, and future perfect in this chapter. Then I dig a little more deeply 
into present perfect tense. The other two perfect tenses — past and future — 
are real headaches and far less common than present perfect, so I save them 
for later. For an in-depth explanation of the past perfect and future perfect 
tenses, see Chapter 18. 



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Simplifying Matters: The Simple Tenses 

The three simple tenses are present, past, and future. Each of the simple 
tenses (just to make things even more fun) has two forms. One is the 
unadorned, no-frills, plain tense. This form doesn’t have a separate name; it is 
just called present, past, or future. It shows actions or states of being at a 
point in time, but it doesn’t always pin down a specific moment. The other 
form is called progressive. The progressive form is not politically active; it 
doesn’t make speeches about minimum wage reform or campaign finance. 
Instead, the progressive form shows actions or a state of being in progress. 



Present tense 

Present tense tells you what is going on right now. This simple tense has two 
forms. One is called present, and the other is progressive. The present form 
shows action or state of being that is occurring now, that is generally true, or 
that is always happening. The present progressive form is similar, but it often 
implies a process. (The difference between the two is subtle. I go into more 
details about using these forms below.) For now, take a look at a couple of 
sentences in the no-frills present tense: 

Rugelach rolls his tongue around the pastry. ( rolls is in present tense) 

Legghorn plans nothing for New Year’s Eve because he never has a date. 
{plans, has are in present tense) 

Now here are two sentences in the present progressive form: 

Alexei is axing the proposal to cut down the national forest, {is axing is in 
present progressive form) 

Murgatroyd and Lulu are skiing far too fast down that cliff, {are skiing is in 
present progressive form) 



Past tense 

Past tense tells you what happened before the present time. This simple 
tense also has two forms — plain and chocolate-sprinkled. Sorry, I mean 
plain, which is called past, and past progressive. Consider these two past- 
tense sentences: 

When the elastic in Ms. Belli’s girdle snapped, we all woke up. {snapped 
and woke are in past tense) 



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jKwJPbaRteSi&Ma#! Understanding Verb Tense 



Despite the strong plastic ribbon, the package became unglued and 
spilled onto the conveyor belt. ( became and spilled are in past tense) 

Here are two more examples, this time in the past progressive form: 

While Buzzy was sleeping, his cat Catnip was completely destroying the 
sofa. ( was sleeping and was destroying are in the progressive form of the 
past tense) 

Lola’s friends were passing tissues to Lulu at a rate of five per minute. 

( were passing is in the progressive form of the past tense) 

You can’t go wrong with the past tense, except for the irregular verbs — I get 
to them later in this chapter. But one very common mistake is to mix past 
and present tenses in the same story. Here’s an example: 

So I go to the restaurant looking for Cindy because I want to tell her about 
Grady’s date with Eleanor. I walk in and I see Brad Pitt! So I went up to 
him and said, “How’s Jennifer?” 

The speaker started in present tense — no problem. Even though an event is 
clearly over, present tense is okay if you want to make a story more dramatic. 
(See the sidebar “The historical present,” later in this chapter.) But the last 
sentence switches gears — suddenly we’re in past tense. Problem! Don’t 
change tenses in the middle of a story. And don’t bother celebrities either. 



Future tense 

Future tense talks about what has not happened yet. This simple tense is the 
only one that always needs helping verbs to express meaning, even for the 
plain, no-frills version. 

Helping verbs such as will, shall, have, has, should, and so forth change the 
meaning of the main verb. (See Chapter 2 for more information.) 

Future tenses — this will shock you — come in two forms. I’m not talking 
about alternate universes here; this book is about grammar, not sci-fi adven- 
tures! One form of the future tense is called future, and the other is future pro- 
gressive. The unadorned form of the future tense goes like this: 

Nutrella will position the wig in the exact center of the dragon’s head. 
(will position is in future tense) 

Ludmilla and I will never part*. ( will part is in future tense) 

A couple of examples of the future progressive: 

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During the post-election period, Gumpus will be pondering his options. 
(will be pondering is in the progressive form of the future tense) 




Lola will be sprinkling the flowers with fertilizer in a vain attempt to keep 
them fresh, (will be sprinkling is in the progressive form of the future 
tense) 

Find the verbs and sort them into present, past, and future tenses. 

A. When the tornado whirls overhead, we run for the camera and the 
phone number of the television station. 



B. Shall I compare you to a winter’s day? 

C. When you were three, you blew out all the candles on your birthday 
cake. 




Answers: In sentence A, the present tense verbs are whirls and run. In sen- 
tence B, the future tense verb is shall compare. In sentence C, the past tense 
verbs are were and blew. 

Now find the verbs and sort them into present progressive, past progressive, 
and future progressive forms. 

A. Exactly 5,000 years ago, a dinosaur was living in that mud puddle. 

B. Agamemnon and Apollo are enrolling in a union of mythological characters. 

C. The pilot will be joining us as soon as the aircraft clears the Himalayas. 



Answers: In sentence A, the past progressive verb is was living. In sentence B, 
the present progressive verb is are enrolling. In sentence C, the future pro- 
gressive verb is will be joining. 



Using the Tenses Correctly 

What’s the difference between each pair of simple tense forms? Not a whole 
lot. People often interchange these forms without creating any problems. But 
shades of difference in meaning do exist. 



Present and present progressive 

The single-word form of the present tense may be used for things that are 
generally true at the present time but not necessarily happening right now. 
For example: 



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Understanding Verb Tense 35 



Ollie attends wrestling matches every Sunday. 

If you call Ollie on Sunday, you’ll get this annoying message he recorded on 
his answering machine because he’s at the arena ( attends is in present tense). 
You may also get this message on a Thursday (or on another day) and it is 
still correct, even though on Thursdays Ollie stays home to play chess. Now 
read this sentence: 

Ollie is playing hide-and-seek with his dog Spot. 

This sentence means that right now (is playing is in the progressive form of 
the present tense), as you write or say this sentence, Ollie is running around 
the living room looking for Spot, who is easy to find because he never stops 
barking. 



Past and past progressive 

The difference between the plain past tense and the past progressive tense is 
pretty much the same as in the present tense. The single-word form often 
shows what happened in the past more generally. The progressive form may 
pinpoint action or state of being at a specific time or occurring in the past on 
a regular basis. 

Gulliver went to the store and bought clothes for all his little friends. 

This sentence means that at some point in the past Gulliver whipped out his 
charge card and finished off his Christmas list (went and bought are in past 
tense). 

While Gulliver was shopping, his friends were planning their revenge. 

This sentence means that Gulliver shouldn’t have bothered because at the 
exact moment he was spending his allowance, his friends were deciding what 
time to pour ink into his lunchbox (was shopping and were planning are in the 
progressive form of the past tense). 

Gulliver was shopping until he was dropping, despite his mother’s strict 
credit limit. 

This sentence refers to one of Gulliver’s bad habits, his tendency to go shop- 
ping every spare moment (was shopping and was dropping are in the progres- 
sive form of the past tense). The shopping was repeated on a daily basis, 
over and over again. (Hence, Gulliver’s mom imposed the strict credit limit.) 



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Future arid future progressive 

You won’t find much difference between these two. The progressive gives 
you slightly more of a sense of being in the middle of things. For example: 

Hammy will be playing Hamlet with a great deal of shouting. 

Hammy’s actions in the sentence above may be a little more immediate than 



Hammy will play Hamlet with a great deal of shouting. 

In the first example, will be playing is in the progressive form of the future 
tense. In the second example, will play is in future tense. 




Understanding the difference between the two forms of the simple tenses 
entitles you to wear an Official Grammarian hat. But if you don’t catch on to 
the distinction, don’t lose sleep over the issue. If you can’t discern the subtle 
differences in casual conversation, your listeners probably won’t either. In 
choosing between the two forms, you’re dealing with shades of meaning, not 
Grand-Canyon-sized discrepancies. 



Perfecting Grammar: The Perfect Tenses 

Now for the hard stuff. These three tenses — present perfect, past perfect, 
and future perfect — may give you gray hair, even if you are only twelve. And 
they have progressive forms too! As with the simple tenses, each tense has a 
no-frills version called by the name of the tense: present perfect, past perfect, 
and future perfect. The progressive form adds an “ing” to the mix. The pro- 
gressive is a little more immediate than the other form, expressing an action 
or state of being in progress. 

In this section, I state the basics and provide examples. For a complete expla- 
nation of present perfect and present perfect progressive tense, see “Using 
Present Perfect Tense Correctly,” later in this chapter. For a full discussion of 
the correct sequence with past and future perfect tenses, see Chapter 18. 

Present perfect and present perfect 

progressive 

The two present perfect forms show actions or states of being that began in 
the past but are still going on in the present. These forms are used whenever 
any action or state^^^^gfti^vf.Q^ime zones — past and present. 




Understanding Verb Tense 37 



The historical present 



Not surprisingly, you use present tense for 
actions that are currently happening. But 
(Surprise!) you may also use present tense for 
some actions that happened a long time ago 
and for some actions that never happened at all. 
The historical present is a way to write about 
history or literature: 

On December 7, 1941, President Franklin 
Delano Roosevelt fe//sthe nation about the 
attack on Pearl Harbor. The nation immedi- 
ately declares war. 

Harry Potter feces three tests when he rep- 
resents Hogwarts in the tournament. 



In the first sentence, tells and declares are in 
present tense, even though the sentence con- 
cerns events that occurred decades ago. Here 
the historical present makes the history more 
dramatic. In the second sentence, faces and 
represents are in presenttense. The idea is that 
for each reader who opens the book, the story 
begins anew. With the logic that we have come 
to know and love in English grammar, the events 
are always happening, even though Harry 
Potter is a fictional character and the events 
never happened. 



First, check out examples with present perfect tense: 

Rumpus and his friends have spent almost every penny of the inheri- 
tance. ( have spent is in present perfect tense) 

Lulu’s mortal enemy, Rumpus, has pleaded with her to become a profes- 
sional tattooist. ( has pleaded is in present perfect tense) 

Now peruse these progressive examples: 

Rumpus has been studying marble shooting for fifteen years without learn- 
ing any worthwhile techniques, (has been studying is in the progressive 
form of the present perfect tense) 

Lulu and her mentor Lola have been counting sheep all night, (have been 
counting is in the progressive form of the present perfect tense) 



Past perfect and past perfect progressive 

Briefly, each of these forms places an action in the past in relation to another 
action in the past. In other words, a timeline is set. The timeline begins some 
time ago and ends at NOW. At least two events are on the timeline. For more 
information about how to use the past perfect, see Chapter 18. Here are a 
couple of examples of the past perfect tense: 

After she had sewn realized that her watch was 

missing! (had sewn is in past perfect tense) 







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The watch had ticked for ten minutes before the nurse discovered its 
whereabouts, (had ticked is in past perfect tense) 

Compare the preceding sentences with examples of the past perfect progres- 
sive (try saying that three times fast without spraying your listener!): 

The patient had been considering a lawsuit but changed his mind, (had 
been considering is in the progressive form of the past perfect tense) 

The doctor had been worrying about a pending lawsuit, but her patient 
dropped his case, (had been worrying is in the progressive form of the 
past perfect tense) 

Future perfect and future perfect 
progressive 

These two forms talk about events or states of being that have not happened 
yet in relation to another event even further in the future. In other words, 
another timeline, with at least two events or states of being on it. For more 
information on how to use the future perfect tense, see Chapter 18. 

First, I give you the plain version of the future perfect: 

Appleby will have eaten the entire apple by the time the bell rings at the 
end of recess, (will have eaten is in future perfect tense) 

When Appleby finally arrives at grammar class, Appleby’s teacher will 
have already outlined at least 504 grammar rules, (will have outlined is in 
future perfect tense) 

Now take a look at the progressive form of the future perfect tense: 

When the clocks strikes four, Appleby will have been chewing for 29 
straight minutes without swallowing even a bite of that apple, (will have 
been chewing is in the progressive form of the future perfect tense) 

By the time he swallows, Appleby’s teacher will have been explaining the 
virtues of digestion to her class for a very long time, (will have been 
explaining is in the progressive form of the future perfect tense) 



Using Present Perfect Tense Correctly 

This mixture of present (has, have) and past is a clue to its use: present per- 
fect tense ties the ^^ a ^ v g(Mg^his tense probably won’t give you 
many problems. Just be sure you include an element of the past and an ele- 
ment of the present in the idea you are expressing. 




Understanding Verb Tense 39 



I have gone to the cafeteria every day for six years, and I have not yet 
found one edible item. 

This sentence means that at present I am still in school, still trying to find 
something to eat and for the past six years I was in school also, trudging to 
the cafeteria each day, searching for a sandwich without mystery meat in it. 

Bertha has frequently buzzed Bubba, but Bubba has not buzzed Bertha 
back. 



This sentence means that in the present Bertha hasn’t given up yet; she’s still 
trying to buzz Bubba from time to time. In the past Bertha also buzzed 
Bubba. In the present and in the past, Bubba’s been daydreaming, ignoring 
the buzzer, and not bothering to let Bertha in. 




As with the simple present tense, the present perfect tense takes two forms. 
One is called present perfect , and the other present perfect progressive. Shades 
of difference in meaning exist between the two — the progressive is a little 
more immediate — but nothing you need to worry about. 

Which one is correct? 

A. Bertha moved into Bubba’s building in 1973 and lived there ever since. 



B. Bertha has moved into Bubba’s building in 1973 and lived there ever 
since. 




C. Bertha moved into Bubba’s building in 1973 and has lived there ever 
since. 



Some tense pairs 



Helping verbs, as well as main verbs, have 
tenses. Some of the most common pairs are 
can/could and may/might The first verb in each 
pair is in present tense; the second is in past 
tense. If you can imagine, you are speaking 
about the present. If you could] Imagine, you are 
speaking about the past. More and more people 
interchange these helping verbs at random, but 
technically, the verbs do express time. So 
remember: 



Now you may talk about how much you 
hate writing school reports. 

Yesterday you might have gone to the store 
if the sky hadn't dumped a foot of snow on 
your head. 

After six years of lessons, you can finally 
dance a mean tango. 

No one ever danced as well as Fred Astaire 
could in those old movie musicals. 



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l>0 Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Answer: Sentence C is correct. You cannot use the simple past, as in sentence 
A, because a connection to the present exists (the fact that Bertha still lives in 
Bubba’s building). Sentence B is wrong because the moving isn’t connected to 
the present; it’s over and done with. So you can’t use present perfect for the 
move. Sentence C has the right combination — the move, now over, should be 
expressed in simple past. The event that began in the past and is still going on 
(Bertha’s living in the building) needs present perfect tense. 

Forming Present and Past Participles 
of Regular Verbs 

I used to tell my classes that my gray hair came from my struggles with par- 
ticiples, but I was just trying to scare them into doing their grammar home- 
work. Participles are not very mysterious; as you may guess from the 
spelling, a participle is simply a part of the verb. Each verb has two partici- 
ples — a present participle and a past participle. You may have noticed the 
present participle in the present progressive tenses. The present participle is 
the ing form of the verb. The past participle helps form the present perfect 
tense since this tense spans both the past and present. Regular past partici- 
ples are formed by adding ed to the verb. Table 3-1 shows a selection of regu- 
lar participles. 



Table 3-1 


Examples of Regular Participles 


Verb 


Present Participle 


Past Participle 


ask 


asking 


asked 


beg 


begging 


begged 


call 


calling 


called 


dally 


dallying 


dallied 


empty 


emptying 


emptied 


fill 


filling 


filled 


grease 


greasing 


greased 



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Understanding Verb Tense 



Just to Make Things More difficult: 
Irregular l/erbs 

When you’re out bargain hunting, irregulars look good. Just a tiny difference 
between an irregular shirt and a regular one, and the irregular one costs less. 
Unfortunately, an irregular is not a bargain in the grammar market. It’s just a 
pain. In this section, I break down the irregulars into two parts. The first part 
is the mother of all irregular verbs, to be. Second is a list of irregular past 
tense forms and past participles. 



"To be or not to be" is a complete pain 

Possibly the weirdest verb in the English language, the verb to be, changes 
more frequently than any other. Here it is, tense by tense. 

Present Tense Singular Plural 

I am we are you are 

you are he, she, it is they are 




Note that the singular forms are in the first column and plural forms are in 
the second column. Singulars are for one person or thing and plurals for 
more than one. “You” is listed twice because it may refer to one person or to 
a group. (Just one more bit of illogic in the language.) 



Past Tense 


Singular 


Plural 


I was 


we were 


you were 


you were 


he, she, it was 


they were 


Future Tense 


Singular 


Plural 


I will be 


we will be 


you will be 


you will be 


he, she, it will be 


they will be 


Present Perfect 


Singular 


Plural 


I have been 


we have been 


you have been 


you have been 


he, she, it has been 


they have been 



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Past Perfect Singular Plural 



I had been 


we had been 


you had been 


you had been 


he, she, it had been 


they had been 


Future Perfect 


Singular 


Plural 


I will have been 


we will have been 


you will have been 


you will have been 


he, she, it will have been 


they will have been 


Irregular past and past participles 


Are you having fun yet? Now the true joy begins. Dozens and dozens of English 
verbs have irregular past tense forms, as well as irregular past participles. (The 
present participles, except for the occasional change from the letter y to the 
letter i, are fairly straightforward. Just add mg.) 1 won’t list all the irregular verbs 
here, just a few you may find useful in everyday writing. If you have questions 
about a particular verb, check your dictionary. In Table 3-2, the first column is 
the infinitive form of the verb. (The infinitive is the “to + verb” form — to laugh, 
to cry, to learn grammar, and so on.) The second column is the simple past 
tense. The third column is the past participle, which is combined with has 
(singular) or have (plural) to form the present perfect tense. The past participle 
is also used with had to form the past perfect tense. 


Table 3-2 


Examples of Irregular Participles 


Verb 


Past 


Past Participle 


begin 


began 


begun 


bite 


bit 


bitten 


break 


broke 


broken 


bring 


brought 


brought 


catch 


caught 


caught 


choose 


chose 


chosen 


come 


came 


come 


do 


did 


done 


drive 


drove 


driven 


eat 


ate 


eaten 


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fallen 

















wwGhapter3:ltelax! Understanding Verb Tense 




Verb 


Past 


Past Participle 


fly 


flew 


flown 


get 


got 


got or gotten 


go 


went 


gone 


know 


knew 


known 


lead 


led 


led 


lend 


lent 


lent 


lie 


lay 


lain 


lose 


lost 


lost 


ride 


rode 


ridden 


ring 


rang 


rung 


rise 


rose 


risen 


run 


ran 


run 


say 


said 


said 


see 


saw 


seen 


shake 


shook 


shaken 


sing 


sang 


sung 


sink 


sank or sunk 


sunk 


sit 


sat 


sat 


speak 


spoke 


spoken 


steal 


stole 


stolen 


take 


took 


taken 


write 


wrote 


written 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Who made these rules anyway? 
Old guys in England? 



The next time you try to decide whether you 
had run or had ran home, thank the Angles and 
the Saxons. Those old guys were members of 
Germanic tribes who invaded England about 
1500 years ago. Their languages blended into 
Anglo-Saxon, which came to be called Englisc. 
Nowadays it's called "Old English." 

Old English lasted about 400 years; this English 
would look and sound like a foreign language to 
English-speakers today. Although it's gone. Old 
English isn't forgotten. Remnants remain in 
modern speech. You can thank (or blame) the 
Anglo-Saxons for most of the irregular verbs, 
including the fact that you say ran instead of 
runned. 

In the Middle English period (1 100 to about 1450) 
England was speckled with local dialects, each 
with its own vocabulary and sentence structure. 
Nobody studied grammar in school, and nobody 
worried about what was correct or incorrect. 
(There were a few more important items on the 
agenda, including starvation and the bubonic 
plague.) 

In the fifteenth century the printing press was 
invented and the era of Modern English began. 
At this time, folks were more interested in 



learning to read and also more interested in 
writing for publication. But writers faced a new 
problem. Sending one's words to a different part 
of the country might mean sending them off to 
someone whose vocabulary or sentence struc- 
ture was different Not to mention the fact that 
spelling was all over the place! Suddenly, rules 
seemed like a good idea. London was the center 
of government and economic life — and also 
the center of printing. So what the London print- 
ers decided was right soon became right. 
However, not until the eighteenth century did 
the rules realty become set. Printers, in charge 
of turning handwriting into type, were guided by 
"printers' bibles," also known as the rules. 

Schoolmasters tried to whip the English lan- 
guage into shape by writing the rules down. But 
they grafted Latin concepts onto English, and it 
wasn't always a good fit. In fact, some of the 
loonier rules of English grammar come from this 
mismatch. In Latin, for example, you can't split 
an infinitive because an infinitive is a single 
word. In English, infinitives are formed with two 
words (to plus a verb, as in to dance, to dream). 
Nevertheless, the rule was handed down; no 
split infinitives. 



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Chapter 4 

Who's Doing What? How 
to Find the Subject 



In This Chapter 

Understanding the role of the subject and subject-verb pairs 

Spotting the subject and subject-verb pairs in simple sentences 

Identifying the subject and subject-verb pairs in more challenging sentences 



f 

■ n Chapter 2 I describe the sentence as a flatbed truck carrying your mean- 
ing to the reader or listener. Verbs are the wheels of the truck, and sub- 
jects are the drivers. Why do you need a subject? Can you imagine a truck 
speeding down the road without a driver? Not possible, or, if possible, not a 
pleasant thought! 



Who's bribing the Truck or Why 
the Subject Is Important 

All sentences contain verbs — words that express action or state of being. 
(For more information on verbs, see Chapter 2.) But you can’t have an action 
in a vacuum. You can’t have a naked, solitary state of being either. Someone 
or something must also be present in the sentence — the who or what you’re 
talking about in relation to the action or state of being expressed by the verb. 
The “someone” or “something” doing the action or being talked about is the 
subject. 




A “someone” must be a person and a “something” must be a thing, place, or 
idea. So guess what? The subject is usually a noun, because a noun is a 
person, place, thing, or idea. I say usually because sometimes the subject is a 
pronoun — a word that substitutes for a noun — he, they, it, and so forth. 
(For more on pronouns, see Chapter 10.) 

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Teaming up: Subject and Verb pairs 

Another way to think about the subject is to say that the subject is the “who” 
or “what” part of the subject-verb pair. The subject-verb pair is the main 
idea of the sentence, stripped to essentials. A few sentences: 

Jasper gasped at the mummy’s sudden movement. 

In this sentence, Jasper gasped is the main idea; it’s also the subject-verb 
pair. (This subject-verb pair is also really hard to say four times fast.) 

Justicia will judge the beauty contest only if the warthog competes. 

You should spot two subject-verb pairs in this sentence: Justicia will judge 
and warthog competes. 

Now try a sentence without action. This one describes a state of being, so it 
uses a linking verb: 

Jackhammer has always been an extremely noisy worker. 

The subject-verb pair is Jackhammer has been. Did you notice that 
Jackhammer has been sounds incomplete? Has been is a linking verb, and 
linking verbs always need something after the verb to complete the idea. I 
give you more links in the verb chain in Chapter 2; now back to the subject at 
hand. (Uh, sorry about that one.) The subject-verb pair in action-verb sen- 
tences may usually stand alone, but the subject-verb pair in linking verb 
sentences may not. 

Compound subjects and Verbs: 

TiVo for the price of one 

Subjects and verbs pair off, but sometimes you get two (or more) for the 
price of one. For example: 

Warthog burped and cried after the contest. 

You’ve got two actions (burped, cried) and one person doing both (Warthog). 
Warthog is the subject of both burped and cried. 

Some additional samples of double verbs, which in grammatical terms are 
called compound verbs: 

Lochness snatched the atomic secret and quickly stashed it in his navel. 

( snatched, staMW™ afcjmfycoms.com 




Chapter^^bft'®JBftmg What? How to Find the Subject 47 



Ludmilla ranted for hours about Ludwig’s refusal to hold an engagement 
party and then crept home, (ranted, crept = verbs) 

Eggworthy came out of his shell last winter but didn’t stay there, (came, 
did stay = verbs) 

You can also have two subjects (or more) and one verb. The multiple sub- 
jects are called compound subjects. Here’s an example: 

Warthog and Justicia went home in defeat. 

Here you notice one action (went) and two people ( Warthog , Justicia) doing the 
action, if you count Warthog as a person. So the verb went has two subjects. 

Now take a look at some additional examples: 

Lola and Lulu ganged up on Legghorn yesterday to his dismay and defeat. 
(Lola, Lulu = subjects) 

The omelet and fries revolted Eggworthy, (omelet, fries = subjects) 

Snort and Squirm were the only two dwarves expelled from Snow White’s 
band. (Snort, Squirm = subjects) 

Pop the Question: Locating 
the Subject-Verb Pair 

Allow me to let you in on a little trick for pinpointing the subject-verb pair of 
a sentence: Pop the question! (No, I’m not asking you to propose.) Pop the 
question tells you what to ask in order to find out what you want to know. 
The correct question is all important in the search for information, as all par- 
ents know: 

WRONG QUESTION FROM PARENT: What did you do last night? 

TEENAGER’S ANSWER: Nothing. 

RIGHT QUESTION FROM PARENT: When you came in at 2 a.m., were you 
hoping that I’d ignore the fact that you went to the China Club? 

TEENAGER’S ANSWER: I didn’t go to the China Club! I went to Moornba. 

PARENT: Aha! You went to a club on a school night. You’re grounded. 

In Chapter 2, 1 explain thay^ ask is not “ Is this § oin g to be 
on the test?” but “What’s the verb?” (To find the verb, ask what’s happening? 




Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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or what is 7) After you uncover the verb, put “who” or “what” in front of it to 
form a question. The answer is the subject! 




Try one: 

Jackknife sharpens his dives during hours of practice. 

1. Pop the question: What’s happening? Answer: sharpens. Sharpens is the 
verb. 

2. Pop the question: Who or what sharpens? Answer: Jackknife sharpens. 
Jackknife is the subject. 

A pop quiz on popping the question. What are the subject and verb in the fol- 
lowing sentence? 

Jolly Roger will soon be smiling because of all the treasure in his ship. 

Answer: The verb is will be smiling and the subject is Jolly Roger. Try one 
more. Identify the subject and verb. 

No matter what the weather, Ratrug never even considers wearing a hat. 

Answer: The verb is considers and the subject is Ratrug. 

What’s a Nice Subject Like \/ou Doing in 
a Place Like This 7: Unusual Word Order 

In this chapter, all the sample sentences up to this point are in the normal 
subject-verb orderywhit^tcj^^agp) sobject-verb. In other words, the subject 
usually comes before the verb. Not every sentence follows that order, though 
most do. Sometimes a subject hides out at the end of the sentence or in some 






Chapter 4: Wht)'S [>omg What? How to Find the Subject 



other weird place. (Hey, even a subject needs a break sometime. Don’t you 
like a change of scenery once in a while?) 

If you pop the question and answer it according to the meaning of the sen- 
tence — not according to the word order — you’ll be fine. The key is to put 
the subject questions (who? what?) in front of the verb. Then think about 
what the sentence is actually saying and answer the questions. And voila! 
Your subject will appear. 

Try this one: 

Up the avenue and around the park trudged Godzilla on his way to tea 
with the Loch Ness Monster. 

1. Pop the question: What’s happening? What is? Answer: trudged. Trudged 
is the verb. 

2. Pop the question: Who trudged? What trudged? Answer: Godzilla. 
Godzilla is the subject. (I’ll let you decide if Godzilla is a who or a what.) 




If you were answering by word order, you’d say park. But the park did not 
trudge, Godzilla trudged. Pay attention to meaning, not to placement in the 
sentence, and you can’t go wrong. 

What are the subjects and verbs in the following sentences? 

A. Alas, what a woefully inadequate grammarian am I. 



B. Across the river and through the woods to the grammarian’s house go 
Ludmilla and Ludwig. 




Answers: In sentence A, am is the verb and / is the subject. In sentence B, the 
verb is go and the subjects are Ludmilla and Ludwig. 

Always find the verb first. Then look for the subject. 



Find That Subject! Detecting 
llouMnderstood 



“Cross on the green, not in between.” 

“Eat your vegetables.” 

“Don’t leave your chewing gum on the bedpost overnight.” 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Me, myself, and I 



You can use / as a subject, but not me or myself. 

Wrong: Bill and me are going to rob that 
bank. Bill and myself will soon be in jail. 

Right. Bill and I are going to rob that bank. 
Bill and I will soon be in jail. 

Wrong: Lola and myself plan to stage the 
musical version of Legghorn's next play. 
Legghorn and me are writing the music. 

Right Lola and I plan to stage the musical 
version of Legghorn's next play. Legghorn 
and I are writing the music. 

Me doesn't perform actions; it receives actions. 
To put this rule another way: me is an object of 
some action or form of attention: 

He gave it to me. 



Lulu's offer was far more profitable for me 
than Lochness's. 

Myself is appropriate only for actions that 
double back on the person performing the 
action: 

I told myself not to be such a nerd! 

Because no one else did, I paid myself a 
compliment 

Myself may also be used for emphasis, along 
with tiie word I. 

I myself will disclose the secret to the 
tabloid offering the most bucks. 

Murgatroyd and / myself mute that screen- 
play, so don't you dare criticize it. 



What do these sentences have in common? Yes, they’re all nagging comments 
you’ve heard all your life. More importantly, they’re all commands. The verbs 
give orders: cross, eat, don’t leave. So where’s the subject in these sentences? 

If you pop the question, here’s what happens: 

1. Pop the question: What’s happening? What is? Answer: cross, eat, don’t 
leave. 

2. Pop the question: Who cross, eat, don’t leave? Answer: Uh. . . . 

The second question appears to have no answer, but appearances can be 
deceiving. The answer is you. You cross at the green, not in between. You eat 
your vegetables. You don’t leave your chewing gum on the bedpost 
overnight. What’s that you say? You is not in the sentence? True. You is not 
written, but it’s implied. And when your mom says, “Eat your vegetables,” 
you understand that she means you. So grammarians say that the subject is 
you-understood. The subject is you, even though you isn’t in the sentence and 
even though you don’t intend to eat those horrible lima beans. 



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Chapter^r Wfite^lSiflig Wfiat? How to Find the Subject £ / 




Pop the questions and find the subject-verb pairs in these three sentences. 

A. Ludmilla, dancing the cha-cha, forgot to watch her feet. 

B. Stop, Ludmilla! 

C. Over the bandleader and across five violin stands fell Ludmilla, heavily. 



Answers: In sentence A, forgot is the verb and Ludmilla is the subject. Dancing 
is a fake verb. (I discuss finding fake verbs and subjects later in this chapter.) 
In sentence B, stop is the verb and you-understood is the subject. The remark 
is addressed to Ludmilla, but you-understood is still the subject. In sentence C, 
fell is the verb and Ludmilla is the subject. 



Don't Get Faked Out: Avoiding 
Fake Verbs and Subjects 

As I walk through New York City, I often see “genuine” Rolex watches (retail 
$10,000 or so) for sale from street peddlers for “$15 — special today only!” 
You need to guard against fakes when you’re on the city streets (no surprise 
there). Also (and this may be a surprise), you need to guard against fakes 
when you’re finding subject-verb pairs. 



Finding fake Verbs 




Verbs in English grammar can be a little sneaky sometimes. You may ask 
who ? or what ? in front of a verb and get no answer or at least no answer that 
makes sense. When this happens, you may gather that you haven’t really 
found a verb. You’ve probably stumbled upon a lookalike, or, as I like to call 
it, a “fake verb.” Here’s an example: 



Wiping his tears dramatically, Grumpus pleaded with the teacher to for- 
give his lack of homework. 



Suppose you pop the verb question (What’s happening? What is?) and get 
wiping for an answer. A reasonable guess. But now pop the subject question: 
Who wiping? What wiping? The questions don’t sound right, and that’s your 
first hint that you haven’t found a real verb. But the question is not impor- 
tant. The answer, however, is! And there is no real answer in the sentence. 

You may try Grumpus, but when you put him with the “verb,” it doesn’t 
match: Grumpus wiping. (Grumpus is wiping would be okay, but that’s not 
what the sentence says.) So now you know for sure that your first “verb” isn’t 
really a verb. Put it aside anTlceep^ Ioo^i D ng s 'W¥iat’s the real verb? Pleaded. 




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Who made these rules anyway? 
Old guys in America? 



When English settlers crossed the ocean and 
landed in America, they found themselves sub- 
merged in a stew of languages. Colonists from 
France, Spain, the Netherlands, and other 
European countries were around, and so were 
Native Americans speaking hundreds of differ- 
ent tongues. The English language immediately 
began to pick up words from all these sources. 
And of course, the language itself, cut off from 
the mother country by a months-long journey, 
began to follow its own path. 

Almost as soon as America became a country, 
schools began to teach English grammar. (This 
practice was a major break from the British, 
who were still teaching Latin grammar in their 
schools and hoping that something good would 
rub off onto their students' English skills.) 
But once again the old guys weighed in with 
a strong tsk-tsk, this time worrying that the 



teachers themselves didn't know the rules. 
W B. Fowle, nineteenth-century author of a 
popular grammar textbook, complained that 
grammarians (and grammar teachers) "have 
generally been unable to write or speak pure 
English." 

All of those complaining grammarians spent a 
lot of time writing books that a) attacked all the 
previous grammar texts and b) claimed that 
their own books were more fun. Samuel 
Kirkham in his 1825 English Grammar in Familiar 
Lectures, for example, said that his text made 
"interesting and delightful" a subject that was, 
until then, "tedious, dry, and irksome." Joseph 
Neef, my favorite nineteenth-century grammar- 
ian, paused for a moment in his list of rules to 
admit that "the education of children and the 
rearing of vegetables are the only occupations 
for which I feel any aptitude." 



To sum up: Lots of words in the sentence express action or being, but only 
some of these words are verbs. (Most are what grammarians call verbals; 
check out Chapter 24 for more on verbals.) At any rate, if you get no answer 
to your pop-the-subject question, just ignore the “verb” you think you found 
and look for the real verb. 

Watching out for here and there 
and other fake subjects 

Someone comes up to you and says, “Here is one million dollars.” What’s the 
first question that comes into your mind? I know, good grammarian that you 
are, that your question is What’s the subject of that sentence? Well, try to 
answer your question in the usual way, by popping the question. 

Here is one million dollars. 

1. Pop the questft9ny£WWa$i’&^ What is? Answer: is. 

2. Pop the question: Who is? What is? Answer: ? 







Chapter 4: Wi?o s Doing What? How to Find the Subject 




What did you say? Here is? Wrong. Here can’t be a subject. Neither can there. 
Both of these words are fake subjects. ( Here and there are adverbs, not 
nouns.) What’s the real answer to the question What is? One million dollars. 
Here and there are fill-ins, place markers; they aren’t what you’re talking 
about. One million dollars — that’s what you’re talking about! 

Although they sometimes try to disguise themselves as nouns, here and there 
are actually adverbs. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs. They 
are busy little words. (For more on adverbs, see Chapter 8.) 

The moral of my story: Avoid here and there when searching for the subject 
of a sentence. 



Choosing the correct <Jerb for 
here ana there sentences 




If you write here and there sentences, be sure to choose the correct verb. 
Because here and there are never subjects, you must always look alter the verb 
for the real subject. When you match a subject to a verb (something I discuss in 
detail in Chapter 1 1), be sure to use the real subject, not here or there. Example: 



Here are ten anteaters. 



NOT 



Here is ten anteaters. 
anteaters = subject 

Another example: 



There are a pen and a pencil in Mr. Nerd’s plastic pocket protector. 



NOT 



There is a pen and a pencil in Mr. Nerd’s plastic pocket protector. 
pen, pencil = subject (compound) 

One last example: 

There were far too many pimples on Murgatroyd’s face. 



NOT 



There was far too maWy^iM^^fPRiRjfgStroyd’s face. 
pimples = subject 





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If you want to check your choice of verb, try reversing the sentence. In the 
sample sentences above, say ten anteaters is/are, a pen and pencil is/are, far 
too many pimples was/were. Chances are your “ear” will tell you that you 
want ten anteaters are, a pen and pencil are, far too many pimples were. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. There are 50 reasons for my complete lack of homework. 

B. There’s 50 reasons for my complete lack of homework. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. In sentence B, there’s is short for there is, but 
reasons, the plural subject, takes a plural verb. 

Subjects Aren't Just a Singular 
Sensation : Forming the Plural of Nouns 

Distinguishing between singular and plural subjects is a really big deal, and I 
go into it in detail in Chapter 1 1 . But before I go any further, I want to explain 
how to form the plural of nouns (words that name persons, places, or things) 
because most subjects are nouns. If you learn how to form plurals, you’ll also 
be able to recognize them. 



Regular plurals 

Plain old garden-variety nouns form plurals by adding the letter s. Check out 
Table 4-1 for some examples. 




Table 4-1 


Examples of Regular Plurals 


Singular 


Plural 


xylophone 


xylophones 


quintuplet 


quintuplets 


worrywart 


worrywarts 


nerd 


nerds 


lollipop 


lollipops 


eyebrow 


eyebrows 



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Chapter 4: Who's Doing What? How to Find the Subject 



Singular nouns that end in s already, as well as singular nouns ending in sh, 
ch, and x form plurals by adding es. Some examples are shown in Table 4-2. 



Table 4-2 


Examples of Regular Plurals Ending in S and CH 


Singular 


Plural 


grinch 


grinches 


box 


boxes 


kiss 


kisses 


George Bush 


both George Bushes 


mess 


messes 


catch 


catches 



The 1ES and \tS have it 

If a noun ends in the letter y, and the letter before the y is a vowel (a, e, i, o, 
u), just add s. For examples, see Table 4-3. 



Table 4-3 


Examples of Regular Plurals Ending in a Vowel Plus Y 


Singular 


Plural 


monkey 


monkeys 


turkey 


turkeys 


day 


days 


boy 


boys 


honey 


honeys 


bay 


bays 



If the noun ends in y but the letter before the y is not a vowel, form the plural 
by changing they to i and adding es. For examples, see Table 4-4. 



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Hn Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Table 4-4 Examples of Regular Plurals Ending in a Consonant Plus Y 


Singular 


Plural 


sob story 


sob stories 


unsolvable mystery 


unsolvable mysteries 


a cute little ditty (it means song) 


cute little ditties 


pinky 


pinkies 


bat-filled belfry 


bat-filled belfries 


tabby 


tabbies 



No knifes here : Irregular plurals 

This topic wouldn’t be any fun without irregulars, now would it? Okay, you’re 
right. Irregulars are always a pain. However, they’re also always around. 

Table 4-5 gives you examples of irregular plurals. 



Table 4-5 


Examples of Irregular Plurals 


Singular 


Plural 


knife 


knives 


sheep 


sheep 


man 


men 


woman 


women 


child 


children 


hanky-panky 


hanky-panky 



Listing all the irregular plurals is an impossible task. Check the dictionary for 
any noun plural that puzzles you. 




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Chapter4jvWNt)fsvDotmg What? How to Find the Subject 




The brother-in-laul rule: Hyphenated plurals 

If you intend to insult your relatives, you may as well do so with the correct 
plural form. Remember: Form the plural of hyphenated nouns by adding s or 
es to the important word, not to the add-ons. These words are all plurals: 

u 0 mothers-in-law 
u* brothers-in-law 

I v 0 vice-presidents 
v 0 secretaries-general 

i 

u* dogcatchers-in-chief 



When the Subject Is a Number 

Numbers are sometimes the subject of a sentence. Check out this example: 
You’re a star pitcher and your agent tells you that your favorite team has made 
an offer. You add up the numbers and send off an e-mail. What do you say? 

$10,000,000 is not enough. 

No, that’s not what you say. Why? Leaving aside the fact that $10,000,000 is 
more than enough for any human being’s work, even work as crucial to the 
future of civilization as hurling a ball past a batter, your answer has a more 
important problem. It’s not grammatically correct. Here’s the rule: Always 
begin a sentence with a capital letter. Don’t begin a sentence with a number, 
because you can’t capitalize numbers, and to repeat, you must begin every 
sentence with a capital letter. If need be, reword the sentence or write out the 
number. So what do you, the star pitcher, write? 

A mere $10,000,000 a year is not enough. 

or you can write out the amount that you’re negotiating: 

Ten million dollars a year is not enough. 

Here are yet more examples: 

WRONG: 1966 was a very good year. 

RIGHT BUT CLUMSY: Nineteen sixty-six was a very good year. 

ALSO RIGHT: The year 1966 was a good one. 

ALSO RIGHT: I had a ^bbd^#fi^'fPi t 5 ( 9©6-, c ^§ 1 least what I remember of it. 





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Chapter 5 

Having It All: The Complete 
Sentence 



In This Chapter 

Distinguishing between complete sentences and sentence fragments 
Understanding when complete sentences are necessary 
Deciding when sentence fragments are acceptable 
Learning how to punctuate sentences correctly 



#^veryone knows the most important rule of English grammar: All 
mm sentences must be complete. 

But everyone breaks the rule. I just did! But everyone breaks the rule is not a 
complete sentence. And you understood me, didn’t you? (Another half sen- 
tence.) Because what I was trying to say was quite clear. (One more.) In this 
chapter, I explain how to decide whether your sentence is complete. I show 
you how to identify partial sentences, or fragments. I tell you when fragments 
are acceptable and when they send you to the grammar penitentiary. I also 
provide everything you need to know about endmarks, the punctuation that 
separates one sentence from another. 



Completing Sentences : The Essential 
Subjects and Verbs 



What is a complete sentence, anyway? First of all, a complete sentence has at 
least one subject-verb pair; they’re a pair because they match. That is, the 
subject and verb go together. You may think about a subject-verb pair this 
way: The sentence must include one element expressing action or being, and 
one element that you’re talking about in relation to the acting or being. (For 
more information on verbs, see Chapters 2 and 3; for more information on 
subjects, see Chapter 4.) /n^^ufeject-verl^pairs that match are 





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Eggworthy scrambled 

Ms. Drydock repairs 

The little engine will be repaired 

Murgatroyd had repelled 

Ratrug will have screeched 

Just for comparison, here is one mismatch: 

Eggworthy scrambling 

You may find some mismatches in your sentences when you go subject-verb 
hunting. Mismatches are not necessarily wrong; they’re simply not subject-verb 
pairs. Take a look at the preceding mismatch, this time inside its sentence: 

Eggworthy, scrambling for a seat on the plane, knocked over the 
omelet plate. 

When you’re checking a sentence for completeness, ignore the mismatches. 
Keep looking until you find a subject-verb pair that matches. If you can’t find 
one, you don’t have a complete sentence. (For more information, see Chapter 
4.) Complete sentences may also include more than one subject-verb pair: 

Dillbly fiddled while Elmira burned. ( Dillbly = subject of the verb fiddled, 
Elmira = subject of the verb burned) 

Because Lester jumped on the trampoline, the earth shook. ( Lester = 
subject of the verb jumped, earth = subject of the verb shook ) 

Not only did Lochness swim, but he also drank. ( Lochness = subject of the 
verb did swim, he = subject of the verb drank ) 

Complete sentences may also match one subject with more than one verb, 
and vice versa: 

The animated pumpkin appeared in three commercials but sang in only 
two. (pumpkin = subject of verbs appeared, sang ) 

Alice and Archie will fight endlessly over a single birdseed. (Alice, Archie 
= subjects of the verb will fight) 

Ratrug and I put crayons on the radiator. (Ratrug, I = subjects of the verb put) 

Complete sentences that give commands may match an understood subject 
(you) with the verb: 

Give a coupon to whoever needs a new tire, (you-understood = subject of 
the verb give, whoever = subject of the verb needs) 
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The Complete Sentence 



Visit Grandma, you little creep! (you-understood = subject of the verb visit) 




Murder Murgatroyd, please, {you-understood = subject of the verb murder) 

To find the subject-verb pair, start with the verb. Pop the verb question: 
What’s happening? or What is? The answer is the verb. Then pop the subject 
question: Ask who? or what? in front of the verb. The answer is the subject. 
(For a more complete explanation, see Chapter 4.) 

The sentence below contains one true subject-verb pair and one mismatch. 
Can you find the subject-verb pair? 

The angry ant caught in a blob of glue vowed never to build a model air- 
plane again. 




Answer: The subject-verb pair is ant vowed. The mismatch is ant caught. The 
sentence isn’t saying that the ant caught something, so ant caught is not a match. 

In the preceding pop quiz, to build is not the verb. To build is an infinitive, the 
basic form from which verbs are made. Infinitives are never used as verbs in 
a sentence. (See Chapter 2 for more information on infinitives.) 



Complete Thoughts, Complete Sentences 

What’s an incomplete sentence? It’s the moment in the television show just 
before the last commercial. You know what I mean. The hero slowly edges the 
door open a few inches, peeks in, gasps, and . . . FADE TO DANCING DETERGENT 
BOTTLE. You were planning to change the channel, but instead you wait to see 
if the villain’s cobra really didn’t die and is now going to bite the hero’s nose. 
You haven’t gotten to the end. You don’t know what’s happening. You stick it 
out. A complete sentence is the opposite of that moment in a television show. 
You have gotten to the end, you do know what’s happening, and you have 
stuck it out. In other words, a complete sentence must express a complete 
thought. (You’ve probably noticed that grammar terminology is not terribly 
original; in fact, it’s terribly obvious.) 

Check out these complete sentences. Notice how they express complete 
thoughts: 

Despite Eggworthy’s fragile appearance, he proved to be a tough opponent. 

Ms. Drydock will sail solo around the world, as soon as her boat is 
sound again. 

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to ride on top of a Zamboni. 
Ludwig bought a genufi^Z^ttbfiteitcj^l .fortthat purpose. 

Ludmilla melted the ice on purpose. 





Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Here are a few incomplete thoughts, just for comparison: 

The reason I wanted a divorce was. 

Because I said so. 

I can guess what you’re thinking. Both of those incomplete thoughts may be 
part of a longer conversation. Yes, in context those incomplete thoughts may 
indeed express a complete thought: 

Sydney: So the topic of conversation was the Rangers’ season opener? 
Alice: No! “The reason I wanted a divorce” was! 



and 



Sydney: Why do I have to do this dumb homework? 

Alice: Because I said so. 

Fair enough. You can pull a complete thought out of the examples. However, 
the context of a conversation is not enough to satisfy the complete 
thought/complete sentence rule. To be legal, your sentence must express a 
complete thought. 

Check out these examples: 

What we talked about was the reason I wanted a divorce, even though his 
real interest was the Rangers’ season opener. 

You have to do this dumb homework because I said so. 

Final answer: Every complete sentence has at least one subject-verb pair and 
must express a complete thought. 

(£ 

Who knits well? 

This question is understandable and its thought is complete. Verdict: legal. 
Suppose these three words form a statement: 

Who knits well. 

Now they don’t make sense. This incomplete sentence needs more words to 
make a complete thought: 

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The honor of making the Chihuahua’s sweater will go to the person who 
knits well. 



In deciding whether you have a complete sentence or not, you may be led 
astray by words that resemble questions. Consider these three words: who 
knits well. A complete thought? Maybe yes, maybe no. Suppose those three 
words form a question: 




Chapter 5tHav in fit Al I : The Complete Sentence 




The moral of the story? Don’t change the meaning of what you’re saying 
when deciding whether a thought is complete. If you’re questioning, consider 
your sentence as a question. If you’re stating, consider your sentence as a 
statement. 

Which sentence is complete? 

A. Martin sings. 



B. Martin, who hopes to sing professionally some day but can’t get beyond 
the do-re-mi level. 



Answer: Even though it is short, sentence A is correct. Martin sings is a com- 
plete idea and includes the necessary subject-verb pair. In sentence B, one 
subject is paired with two verbs ( who + hopes, can get), but no complete 
thought is stated. 



Taking an Incomplete: 

Fragment Sentences 

I use incomplete sentences, or fragments, here and there throughout this 
book, and (I hope) these incomplete sentences aren’t confusing. Especially 
now in the MTV-Internet Age, quick cuts and quick comments are the rule. 
Everyone today, particularly young people, is much more comfortable with 
half-sentences than our elderly relatives were. (I have to point out that the 
entire older generation, no matter how fanatically correct in grammar, loves 
one incomplete sentence: Because / said so.) 

The most common type of fragment uses the words and, or, but, and nor. 
These words are called conjunctions, and they work like rubber bands; they 
bind things together. (For more information on conjunctions, see Chapter 6.) 
Frequently these words are used to combine two complete sentences (with 
two complete thoughts) into one longer sentence: 

Eggworthy went to his doctor for a cholesterol check, and then he 
scrambled home. 

Ratrug will rule the roost, or he will die trying. 

President Drinkwater was extremely thirsty, but he was not fond of 
chamomile tea. 

Ludwig did not want to clean the Zamboni, nor did Ludmilla want to drive 
it away. 



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Whether or if it rains 



Whether and if both connect one idea to If, on the other hand, describes a possibility, 
another in the sentence, but each is used in a Check out these examples: 



different situation. Are you choosing between 
two alternatives? Select whether, as in whether 
or not Look at the following examples: 

Lochness is not sure whether he should 
activate the wind machine. (He has two 
choices — to activate or not to activate.) 

Whether I go or stay is completely irrelevant 
to me. (Two choices — going and staying.) 



Lulu will reach the top of Mount Everest if 
the sunny weather continues. (The sen- 
tence talks about the possibility of sunny 
weather.) 

If I have my way, the Grammarians' Ball will 
be held in the Participle Club. (The sentence 
talks about the possibility of my having what 
I want.) 



In the first sample sentence, and is a rubber band joining 
Eggworthy went to his doctor for a cholesterol check 
to 

then he scrambled home. 

In the second sentence, the rubber band is or, which joins 
Ratrug will rule the roost 
to 



he will die trying. 




The next pair of complete sentences (1. President Drinkwater was extremely 
thirsty. 2. He was not fond of chamomile tea.) is joined by but. In the last 
sample sentence, nor joins the two complete sentences (1. Ludwig did not 
want to clean the Zamboni. 2. Ludmilla did want to drive it away.). 

Note that the word nor changes the meaning of the second sentence from 
positive ( Ludmilla did want) to negative ( Ludmilla did not want). 

Nowadays, more and more writers begin sentences with and, or, but, and nor, 
even in formal writing. For example, the previous sentences may be turned into 



Eggworthy went to his doctor for a cholesterol check. And then he 
scrambled hoM^w.watchtvsitcoms.com 



Ratrug will rule the roost. Or he will die trying. 




Ghaptef S- Having lt All: The Complete Sentence 



President Drinkwater was extremely thirsty. But he was not fond of 
chamomile tea. 

Ludwig did not want to clean the Zamboni. Nor did Ludmilla want to 
drive it away. 



The rubber bands — and, or, but, and nor in these sentences — are still there. 
However, they aren’t connecting two or more complete thoughts in single 
sentences. Logically, of course, the conjunctions are connecting the thoughts 
in both sentences. 




Beginning sentences with and, but, or, and nor is still not quite acceptable in 
formal English grammar. (I wouldn’t suggest using these incomplete sen- 
tences in school essays or professional reports, for example.) In most 
instances, however, you probably won’t go to the grammar penitentiary if 
you begin a sentence with one of these words. Consider your audience and 
then make your choice. 



Oh, Mama, Could This Realty Be the 
End) Understanding Endmarks 

When you speak, your body language, silences, and tone act as punctuation 
marks. You wriggle your eyebrows, stop at significant moments, and raise 
your tone when you ask a question. 

When you write, you can’t raise an eyebrow or stop for a dramatic moment. 
No one hears your tone of voice. That’s why grammar uses endmarks. The 
endmarks take the place of live communication and tell your reader how to 
“hear” the words correctly. Plus, you need endmarks to close your sentences 
legally. Your choices include the period (.), question mark (?), exclamation 
point (!), or ellipsis (. . .). The following examples show how to use endmarks 
correctly. 

The period is for ordinary statements, declarations, and commands: 

1 can’t do my homework. 

I refuse to do my homework. 

I will never do homework again. 

The question mark is for questions: 

Why are you torturing me with this homework? 

Is there no justice in 

Does no one know the trouble I’ve seen in my assignment pad? 




nh Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Why clarity is important 



One of my favorite moments in teaching came 
on a snowy January day. A student named 
Danny ran into the lunchroom, clearly bursting 
with news. "Guess what?" he shouted tri- 
umphantly to his friends. "A kid on my bus's 
mother had a baby last night!" 

This situation wasn't critical. After all, the baby 
had already been born. But imagine if Danny 
had been greeting an ambulance with "Quick! 
Over here! A kid on my bus's mother is having a 
baby!" I think everyone agrees that the best 
reaction from an emergency medical technician 
isn't "Huh?" 

Being clear is probably the first rule of English 
grammar, and that rule wins a fight with any 
other rule. Faced with a choice between confu- 
sion and incomplete sentences, for example, 



incomplete sentences should win. In other 
words, here's the news Danny should have 
spread that cold January day: 

This kid on my bus? His mother had a baby 
last night 

Of course, he could also have told his story 
correctly by saying: 

The mother of a kid on my bus had a baby 
last night. 

Either way, everyone would've yawned, eaten 
another bite of mystery meat, and filed out to 
math class. Hearing either of these statements, 
the students would've understood what Danny 
was trying to say. 

So remember: First comes meaning. Second 
comes everything else. 



The exclamation point adds a little drama to sentences that would otherwise 
end in periods: 

I can’t do my homework! 

I absolutely positively refuse to do it! 

Oh, the agony of homework I’ve seen! 

An ellipsis (three dots) signals that something has been left out of a sentence. 
When missing words occur at the end of a sentence, use four dots (three for 
the missing words and one for the end of the sentence): 



Murgatroyd choked, “I can’t do my. . . .” 




Ratrug complained, “If you don’t shut up, I. . . .” 

Don’t put more than one endmark at the end of a sentence, unless you’re 
trying to create a comic effect: 

He said my cooking tasted like what?!?!?! 



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CJ^jJt^JtvyaviflftJlhAII: The Complete Sentence 



Don’t put any endmarks in the middle of a sentence. You may find a period 
inside a sentence as part of an abbreviation; in this case, the period is not 
considered an endmark. If the sentence ends with an abbreviation, let the 
period after the abbreviation do double duty. Don’t add another period: 

WRONG: When Griselda woke me, it was six a.m.. 

RIGHT: When Griselda woke me, it was six a.m. 




WRONG: Lulu prefers to buy artifacts made before 700 B.C.. 

RIGHT: Lulu prefers to buy artifacts made before 700 B.C. 

Can you punctuate this example correctly? 

Who’s there Archie I think there is someone at the door Archie it’s a mur- 
derer Archie he’s going to 



Answer: Who’s there? Archie, I think there is someone at the door. Archie, it’s 
a murderer! (A period is acceptable here also.) Archie, he’s going to. . . . 



Who made these rules anyway? You do 



Listen to yourself talk. What you hear is gram- 
mar. You may not be hearing correct grammar, 
but if enough people talk the way you do, you 
are hearing grammar in the making — at least 
according to some grammarians. 

There are two schools of thought on grammar: 
In one, teachers and other so-called experts 
give you a list of rules and tell you to follow 
them. In another, grammarians listen and 
describe what they hear. Once enough people 
speak a certain way, the expression becomes 
part of standard English. Or, as a grammarian 
named Lathan said in 1848, "In Language, what- 
ever is, is right." 

Take the word hopefully, for example. This word 
originally meant with hope and was used to 
describe the feelings accompanying a specific 
action: 

Griselda wrote hopefully, her mind filled 
with thoughts of a rosy future with Grimface 
and their dot com start-up. 



Some time ago, people began to use hopefully 
in a different way, to mean, it is hoped that. 

Hopefully Griselda won't decide to redeco- 
rate Grimface's castle in post-modern style. 

English teachers sometimes frowned on the use 
of hopefully in the second sentence, but most 
people ignored those frowns quite successfully. 
The result? Hopefully now means it is hoped 
that 'm normal speech (though not on English 
tests and not in all dictionaries). Who made the 
new rule? You did. The you above is a collective 
you, not an individual you. Don't assume that 
you can say anything you want and be correct! 
First a critical mass of speakers (think millions, 
not you and a bunch of your friends) must 
accept a new usage before grammarians take 
notice. And even then, some will still frown. 
Know your audience, and be careful in your 
speech and writing when you are dealing with a 
known frowner or an unknown audience. 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Chapter 6 

Handling Complements 



In This Chapter 

Recognizing complements 

Understanding how a complement adds to the meaning of a sentence 
Distinguishing between linking-verb and action-verb complements 
Placing complements after linking verbs and action verbs 
Using the correct pronouns as complements 



^kpeeding down the grammar highway, the sentence is a flatbed truck 

carrying meaning to the reader. The verbs are the wheels and the subject 
is the driver. Complements are the common, not-always-essential parts of the 
truck — perhaps the odometer or the turn signals. These words are a little 
more important than those fuzzy dice some people hang from their rearview 
mirrors or bumper stickers declaring / stop at railroad tracks. (What do they 
think the rest of us do? Leap over the train?) You can sometimes create a 
sentence without complements, but their presence is generally part of the 
driving — sorry, I mean communicating — experience. 

You can find four kinds of complements in sentences: direct objects, indirect 
objects, objective complements, and subject complements. The first three 
types of complements are related to the object of a sentence (notice that the 
word object is part of the name), and the fourth type of complement is related 
to the subject of a sentence (notice the word subject is part of its name). 
Knowing the difference between these two groups is helpful. In this chapter, I 
discuss the complements in two sections. The first section explains objects, 
which follow action verbs. The next section tackles the subject complement, 
which follows linking verbs. 




Before I go any further, it’s time to straighten out the compliment/comple- 
ment divide. The one with an “i” is not a grammatical term; compliment is just 
a word meaning “praise.” Complement with an “e” is a grammatical term. A 
complement adds meaning to the idea that the subject and verb express. 

That is, a complement completes the idea that the subject and verb begin. 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Getting to the Action: Action 
Verb Complements 

Action verbs express — surprise! — action. No action verb needs a comple- 
ment to be grammatically legal. But an action-verb sentence without a com- 
plement may sound bare, stripped down to the bone. The complements that 
follow action verbs — the direct object, indirect object, and objective com- 
plement — enhance the meaning of the subject-verb pair. 



Receiving the action: Direct objects 

Imagine that you’re fourteen. You’re holding the baseball, ready to throw it to a 
buddy in your yard. But in your imagination, you’re facing Mark McGuire, the 
home-run champ. You go into your windup and pitch a 99-mile-an-hour fastball. 
(Okay, a 40-mile-an-hour curve.) The ball arcs gracefully against the clear blue 
sky — and crashes right through the picture window in your living room. 

You broke the picture window! 

Before you can retrieve your ball, the phone rings. It’s your mom, who has 
radar for situations like this. What’s going on? she asks. You mutter something 
containing the word broke. (There’s the verb.) Broke ? Who broke something? 
she demands. You concede that you did. (There’s the subject.) What did you 
break? You hesitate. You consider a couple of possible answers: a bad habit, 
the world’s record for the hundred-meter dash. Finally you confess: the picture 
window. (There’s the complement.) 

Here’s another way to think about the situation (and the sentence). Broke is 
an action verb because it tells you what happened. The action came from the 
subject (you) and went to an object (the window). As some grammarians 
phrase it, the window receives the action expressed by the verb broke. 
Conclusion? Window is a direct object because it receives the action directly 
from the verb. 

Try another. 

With the force of 1,000 hurricanes, you pitch the baseball. 

Pitch is an action verb because it expresses what is happening in the sen- 
tence. The action goes from the subject (you , the pitcher) to the object 
(the baseball). In other words, baseball receives the action of pitching. Thus, 
baseball is the direct object of the verb pitch. 



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ww.watchtvsitcfffeaBfSrS: Handling Complements 



Here are a few examples of sentences with action verbs. The direct objects 
are italicized. 

The defective X-ray machine took strange pictures of the giant frog. 

(took = verb, X-ray machine = subject) 

Legghorn hissed the secret word in the middle of the graduation cere- 
mony. ( hissed = verb, Legghorn = subject) 

Green marking pens draw naturally beautiful lines, (draw = verb, pens = 
subject) 

Griselda kissed the giant frog, (kissed = verb, Griselda = subject) 

Leroy’s laser printer spurted ink all over his favorite shirt, (spurted = 
verb, printer = subject) 

You may be able to recognize direct objects more easily if you think of them 
as part of a pattern in the sentence structure: subject (S) - action verb (A V) - 
direct object (DO). This S-AV-DO pattern is one of the most common in the 
English language; it may even be the most common (I don’t know if anyone 
has actually counted all the sentences and figured it out!). At any rate, think 
of the parts of the sentence in threes, in the S-AV-DO pattern: 

machine took pictures 
Legghorn hissed word 
pens draw lines 
Griselda kissed frog 
printer spurted ink 

Of course, just to make your life a little bit harder, a sentence can have more 
than one DO. Check out these examples: 

Algernon autographed posters and books for his many admirers. 

Ratrug will buy a dozen doughnuts and a few slabs of cheesecake for 
breakfast. 

The new president of the Heart Society immediately phoned Eggworthy 
and his brother. 

Lochness sent spitballs and old socks flying across the room. 

Ludmilla bought orange juice, tuna, aspirin, and a coffee table. 

Some sentences have no DO. Take a look at this example: 

Throughout the endless afternoon and into the lonely night, Allegheny 
sighed sadly. 



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7 7 Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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No one or nothing receives the sighs, so the sentence has no direct object. 
Perhaps that’s why Allegheny is lonely. 

The grammar point: This sentence doesn’t have a direct object, though it is 
powered by a verb and expresses a complete thought. 



Rare, but sometimes there: Indirect objects 

Another type of object is the indirect object. This one is called indirect 
because the action doesn’t flow directly to it. The indirect object, affection- 
ately known as the 10, is an intermediate stop along the way between the 
action verb and the direct object. Read this sentence, in which the indirect 
object is italicized: 

Knowing that I’m on a diet, my former friend sent me six dozen chocolates. 

The action is sent. My former friend performed the action, so friend is the sub- 
ject. What received the action? Six dozen chocolates. Chocolates is the direct 
object. That’s what was sent, what received the action of the verb directly. 

But me also received the action, indirectly. Me received the sending of the 
boxes of chocolate. Me is called the indirect object. 

The sentence pattern for indirect objects is subject (S) - action verb (A V) - 
indirect object (10) - direct object (DO). Notice that the indirect object 
always precedes the direct object: S-AV-IO-DO. Here are a few sentences 
with the indirect objects italicized: 

Grunhilda will tell me the whole story tomorrow, (will tell = verb, 
Grunhilda = subject, story = direct object) 

Murgatroyd promises Lulu everything, (promises = verb, Murgatroyd = sub- 
ject, everything = direct object) 

As a grammarian, I should have given you better sample sentences. 
(should have given = verb, I = subject, sentences = direct object) 

Ludmilla radioed Ludwig a tart message, (radioed = verb, Ludmilla = sub- 
ject, message = direct object) 

The crooked politician offered Agnes a bribe for dropping out of the 
senate race, (offered = verb, politician = subject, bribe = direct object) 

Like clerks in a shoe store, indirect objects don’t appear very often. When 
indirect objects do arrive, they’re always in partnership with a direct object. 
You probably don’t need to worry about knowing the difference between 
direct and indirect objects (unless you’re an English teacher). As long as you 
understand that these words are objects, completing the meaning of an 
action verb, you r^^^g h ^^^mposition of a sentence. 




f l|^?r6: Handling Complements 




A fight about indirect objects is tearing apart the world of grammar. (Did you 
gasp — or was that a yawn?) Read these two sentences: 

Archie gave me a bit of birdseed. 



Archie gave a bit of birdseed to me. 




According to one school of thought, the first sentence has an indirect object 
(me), and the second sentence doesn’t. This thinking assumes that because 
to is present in the second sentence, me isn’t an indirect object. (If you’re 
into labels, to me is a prepositional phrase.) According to another group of 
grammarians, both sentences have indirect objects (me), because in both 
sentences, me receives the action of the verb indirectly; the presence of the 
word to is irrelevant. What’s really irrelevant is this discussion. You may side 
with either camp, or, more wisely, ignore the whole thing. 



No bias here : Objective complements 

Finally, a grammar rule that’s hard to bungle. Here’s the deal: sometimes a 
direct object doesn’t get the whole job done. A little more information is 
needed (or just desired), and the writer doesn’t want to bother adding a 
whole new subject-verb pair. The solution? An objective complement — an 
added fact about the direct object. 

The objective complement (italicized in the following sentences) may be a 
person, place, or thing. In other words, the objective complement may be a 
noun: 

Eggworthy named Lester copy chief of the Heart Society Bulletin. ( named 
= verb, Eggworthy = subject, Lester = direct object) 

Grunhilda and others with her world view elected Ratrug president, 
(elected = verb, Grunhilda and others = subject, Ratrug = direct object) 

Allegheny called his dog Allegheny Too. (called = verb, Allegheny = sub- 
ject, dog = direct object) 

The objective complement may also be a word that describes a noun. 

(A word that describes a noun is called an adjective; see Chapter 8 for more 
information.) Take a peek at some sample sentences: 

Nimby considered her hazy at best, (considered = verb, Nimby = subject, 
her = direct object) 

Lochness dubbed Allegheny Too ridiculous, (dubbed = verb, Lochness = 
subject, Allegheny Too = direct object) 

Ratrug called Lochnes^v/^O'^fetWsfcgt^f^Grryerb, Ratrug = subject, 
Lochness = direct object) 





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As you see, the objective complements in each of the sample sentences give 
the sentence an extra jolt — not lightning, but a double-espresso sort of jolt. 
You know more with it than you do without it, but the objective complement 
is not a major player in the sentence. 



Finishing the Equation: Linking 
Verb Complements 

Linking verb complements are major players in sentences. A linking verb 
begins a word equation; it expresses a state of being, linking two ideas. The 
complement completes the equation. Because a complement following a link- 
ing verb expresses something about the subject of the sentence, it is called a 
subject complement. In each of the following sentences, the first idea is the 
subject, and the second idea (italicized) is the complement: 

Nerdo is upset by the bankruptcy of the pocket-protector manufacturer. 

( Nerdo = upset) 

Grunhilda was a cheerleader before the dog bite incident. (Grunhilda = 
cheerleader) 

Nasalhoff should have been head of the allergy committee. (Nasalhoff = 
head) 

The little orange book will be sufficient for all your firework information 
needs, (book = sufficient) 

It is /, the master of the universe. (It = I) 



Subject complements can take on several forms. Sometimes the subject 
complement is a descriptive word (an adjective, for those of you who like the 
correct terminology). Sometimes the subject complement is a noun (person, 
place, thing, or idea) or a pronoun (a word that substitutes for a noun). The 
first sample sentence equates Nerdo with a description (the adjective upset). 
The second equates Grunhilda with a position (the noun cheerleader). 
Nasalhoff, in the third sentence, is linked with a title (the noun head). In the 
fourth sample sentence, the subject book is described by the adjective suffi- 
cient. The last sentence equates the subject it with the pronoun I. Don’t worry 
about these distinctions. They don’t matter! As long as you can find the sub- 
ject complement, you’re grasping the sentence structure. 




The linking verbs that I mentioned in the previous paragraph are forms of the 

verb “to be.” Other verbs that give sensory information (feel, sound, taste, 

smell, and so on) may also be linking verbs. Likewise, appear and seem are 

linking verbs. (For more information on linking verbs, see Chapter 2.) Here 

are a couple of sentences with sensory linking verbs. The complements are 
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italicized: 




ww^vfc! e c r o& Handling Complements 75 



Ludwig sounds grouchier than usual today. ( Ludwig = grouchier) 




At the end of each algebra proof, Analivia feels strangely depressed. 

( Analivia = depressed) 

Don’t mix types of subject complements in the same sentence, completing 
the meaning of the same verb. Use all descriptions (adjectives) or all nouns 
and pronouns. Take a look at these examples: 



WRONG: Grumpus is grouchy and a patron of the arts. 



RIGHT: Grumpus is a grouch and a patron of the arts. 



ALSO RIGHT: Grumpus is grouchy and arty. 



WRONG: Lester’s pet tarantula will be annoying and a real danger. 
RIGHT: Lester’s pet tarantula will be an annoyance and a danger. 
ALSO RIGHT: Lester’s pet tarantula will be annoying and dangerous. 



Pop the Question : Locating 
the Complement 

In Chapter 2, 1 explain how to locate the verb by asking the right questions. 
(What’s happening? What is?) In Chapter 4, 1 show you how to pop the question 
for the subject. (Who? What? before the verb). Now it’s time to pop the ques- 
tion to find the complements. You ask the complement questions after both the 
verb and subject have been identified. The complement questions are 

Who or whom? 

What? 




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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Try popping the questions in a couple of sentences: 



Flossie maintains the cleanest teeth in Texas. 



1. Pop the verb question: What’s happening? Answer: maintains. Maintains 
is the action verb. 



2. Pop the subject question: Who or what maintains? Answer: Flossie main- 
tains. Flossie is the subject. 




3. Pop the complement question: Flossie maintains who/whom? No answer. 
Flossie maintains what? Answer: Flossie maintains the cleanest teeth in 
Texas (teeth for short). Teeth is the direct object. 

Remember that objects (direct or indirect) follow action verbs. 

Time for you to try another: 



The ancient lawn gnome appeared tired and worn. 

1. Pop the verb question: What’s happening? No answer. What is? Answer: 
Appeared. Appeared is the linking verb. 

2. Pop the subject question: Who or what appeared? Answer: Gnome 
appeared. Gnome is the subject. 

3. Pop the complement question: Gnome appeared who? No answer. Gnome 
appeared what? Answer: Tired and worn. Tired and worn are the subject 
complements. 

Remember that subject complements follow linking verbs. 

Pop the Question: Finding 
the Indirect Object 

Though indirect objects seldom appear, you can check for them with another 
“pop the question.” After you locate the action verb, the subject, and the 
direct object, ask 




To whom? For whom? 
To what? For what? 



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www.watchtvsi ttGhaptef 6: Handling Complements 




If you get an answer, it should reveal an indirect object. Here’s an example: 
Mildred will tell me the secret shortly. 

1. Pop the verb question: What’s happening? Answer: will tell. Will tell is an 
action verb. 

2. Pop the subject question: Who will tell? Answer: Mildred. Mildred is the 
subject. 

3a. Pop the DO question: Mildred will tell whom? or what? Answer: Mildred 
will tell the secret. Secret is the direct object. 

3b. Pop the 10 question: Mildred will tell the secret to whom? Answer: to me. 
Me is the indirect object. 




You may come up with a different answer when you pop the DO question in 
number 3a ( Mildred will tell whom? or what?). You can answer Mildred will tell 
me. True. The only problem is that the sentence then has secret flapping 
around with no label. So, your attempt to determine the sentence structure 
has reached a dead end. As long as you understand that both me and secret 
are objects, let the I-have-no-life grammarians worry about which one is 
direct and which one is indirect. 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Object or subject complement? Identify the italicized words. 

Sasquatch seemed soggy after his semi-final swim, so we gave him a towel. 

Answer: Soggy is the subject complement. ( Seemed is a linking verb.) Him is 
the indirect object. Towel is the direct object. ( Gave is an action verb.) 




Pronouns as Objects and 
Subject Complements 

He told I? He told me? Me, of course. Your ear usually tells you which pro- 
nouns to use as objects (both direct and indirect), because the wrong pro- 
nouns sound funny. The object pronouns include me, you, him, her, it, us, 
them, whom, and whomever. Check them out in context: 



Rickie splashed her with icy water. 

The anaconda hissed them a warning. 
The babbling burglar told her everything. 




Your ear may not tell you the correct pronoun to use after a linking verb. 
That’s where you want a subject pronoun, not an object pronoun. (Just for the 
record, the subject pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, and 
whoever :) Why do you need a subject pronoun after a linking verb? 
Remember the equation: What’s before the verb should be equal to what’s 
after the verb (S = SC). You put subject pronouns before the verb as subjects, 
so you put subject pronouns after the verb, as subject complements. (For 
more information, see Chapter 2.) 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. According to the witness, the burglar is her, the one with the bright 
orange eyes! 



B. According to the witness, the burglar is she, the one with the bright 
orange eyes! 



Answer: Sentence B is correct if you’re writing formally. Is is a linking verb 
and must be followed by a subject pronoun, she. Sentence A is acceptable in 
conversation. 



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cGHll8^r 6: Handling Complements 79 



You gotta problem with grammar? 



Do you possess an "ear" for grammar? Do you 
recognize proper English, distinguishing it from 
the way everyone else around you speaks? If 
so, you probably don't say gotta, gonna, gotcha, 
or hisself. You never use done all by itself as the 
verb in the sentence. These expressions come 
from various regional accents and customs 
(similar to the one that makes New Yorkers shop 
at a store on Toidy-toid and Toid — Thirty-third 
and Third, for those of you from other parts of 
the world). Although saying gotta when you're 
chatting with a friend is perfectly okay, it isn't 
okay when you're speaking to a teacher, a boss, 
a television interviewer, the supreme ruler of the 
universe, and anyone else in authority. Thus, 

WRONG: Allegheny: You gonna wait for 

Cedric? He bought hisself a new car and he 

might give us a ride. 



RIGHT: Allegheny: Are you going to wait for 
Cedric? He bought a new car for himself, 
and he might give us a ride. 

WRONG: Basil: No, I gotta go. 

RIGHT: Basil: No, I have to go. 

WRONG: Allegheny; We done nothing today! 
I'm not coming anymore. All we do is talk. 

RIGHT: Allegheny: We have done nothing 
today! (or. We haven't done anything today!) 
I'm not coming anymore. All we do is talk. 

WRONG: Basil: Gotcha. Next week we'll go 
bowling. 

RIGHT: Basil: I understand. Next week we'll 
go bowling. 

I'd add another sample conversation, but it's 
almost time for lunch. I gotta go. 



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Part I: The Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence 

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Part II 

Avoiding Common 
Errors 




establish. the difference between ike wrtte 'furtiter'and'farfker.'" 



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In this part . . . 



M MJ ant to build a castle? You can build one using only 
w' W chunky squares, but how much more interesting 
it is to throw in cones, arches, and a banner or two! 
Communication is the same way. To express yourself with 
any flair, you want to add descriptions, joining words, and 
an occasional exclamation to your sentences. In this part, 
I explain a few more parts of speech — conjunctions, 
adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and interjections. This 
part also contains a field guide to the pronoun, a useful 
little part of speech that resembles a World War II 
minefield when it comes to error possibilities. Finally, I 
delve a little further into the complexities of subject-verb 
agreement, also a minefield. Never fear: I provide a flak 
jacket’s worth of tricks for understanding these 
grammar rules. 



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Chapter 7 

Getting Hitched: Marrying 
Sentences 



» m * * ' » >. » • « f- # * • • • # 

In This Chapter 

Understanding how longer sentences make your writing flow more smoothly 

Uniting two or more sentences properly 

Using the correct words to join equal elements 

Punctuating joined sentences 

Joining unequal elements properly 



#^aving come of age in the Sixties, I learned a special meaning of the word 
¥ m together. To us flower children (yes, I got married with daisies in my 
hair), together meant more than just two or more things mixed into one batch. 
Together had a cosmic sense to it, a feeling of harmony. If you were together, 
your life flowed along in a peaceful, wise, balanced way. People wanted to get 
their heads together, but the task was difficult. 

Your sentences have a much easier time of it. A together sentence, to borrow 
the Sixties term, flows well; it simply sounds good. How do you go about 
getting your sentences together? Read on. 

Matchmaking: Combining 
Sentences Legattg 

Listen to the nearest toddler and you may hear something like “I played with 
the clay and I went to the zoo and Mommy said I had to take a nap and. . . and 
so forth. Monotonous, yes. But — surprise, surprise — grammatically correct. 
Take a look at how the information would sound if that one sentence turned 
into three: / played with the clay. I went to the zoo. Mommy said I had to take a 
nap. The information soun4^1^lP|]^ s \^^ |fe^ sentences are combined, the 
information flows more smoothly. Granted, joining everything with and is not a 
great idea. Read on for better ways of gluing one sentence to another. 





Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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Although combining sentences may improve your writing, it can be danger- 
ous. You may easily end up with a run-on sentence, which is two or more com- 
plete sentences faultily run together. A run-on (a grammatical felony, by the 
way) is like a dinner speaker who’s supposed to entertain the guests during 
the appetizer but instead talks right through the entree, the dessert, and the 
kitchen cleanup. You don’t want run-ons in your writing! The best way to 
avoid these sentences is to figure out how to connect sentences legally. 



Connecting With coordinate conjunctions 

The words used to join clauses are called conjunctions. You’re familiar with 
these common words: for, but, yet, so, nor, and, and or. (And is the most popu- 
lar, for those of you keeping track.) These little powerhouses, which are 
called coordinate conjunctions, eat their spinach and lift weights every day. 
They’re strong enough to join complete sentences. They may use their 
strength to join all sorts of equal grammatical elements. Here they are in 
action joining equal clauses: 

The rain pelted Abernathy’s gray hair, and his green velvet shoes were 
completely ruined. 

The CEO told Agwam to call all the numbers on the Rolodex, but Agwam 
had no idea what a Rolodex was. 

You can take a hike, or you can jump off a cliff. 

Blathersby did not know how to shoe a horse, nor did he understand 
equine psychology. 

The town lined the streets, for they had heard a rumor about Lady Godiva. 

The coordinate conjunctions give equal emphasis to the elements they join. 
In the preceding sentences, the ideas on one side of the conjunction have no 
more importance than the ideas on the other side of the conjunction. 




Pausing to place commas 

In the sample sentences in the previous section, all the conjunctions have 
commas in front of them. A few special rules govern the use of commas in 
joined sentences: 

When you join two complete sentences, always put a comma in front of 
the conjunction. 

u* These same conjunctions — and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so — may also 
unite other things. For example, these words may join two nouns ( Mac 
and Agnes) or two.vertbsv^srogio.carfertce) and so forth. Use the comma 
only when joining two complete sentences. Here are a few examples: 




CtepMM^fleMitched: Marrying Sentences 85 



WRONG: Little Jack Horner sat in the corner, and then pulled a plum out 
of his pie. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: And joins two verbs, sat and pulled. 

RIGHT: Little Jack Horner sat in the corner and then pulled a plum out of 
his pie. 

Take a look at another set: 

WRONG: The head of the Committee on Punishment for Grammatical 
Crimes, and Abernathy propose exile for misuse of comma, first degree. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: And joins two nouns, head and Abernathy 

RIGHT: The head of the Committee on Punishment for Grammatical 
Crimes and Abernathy propose exile for misuse of comma, first degree. 

And just to make sure you’re with me on this point: 

WRONG: Blind mice seem to spend a lot of time running up clocks, and 
singing nursery rhymes. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: And joins two descriptions, running and singing. 

RIGHT: Blind mice seem to spend a lot of time running up clocks and 
singing nursery rhymes. 

*> Don’t send a comma out all by itself when you want to join two complete 
sentences. Commas are too weak to glue one sentence to another. 
Despite the fact that these puny little punctuation marks can’t hold any- 
thing together, every single day people try to use commas for just that 
purpose. So many people, in fact, that this sort of error actually has a 
name: a comma splice. (You know a grammar error has made it to the 
major leagues when the error has its very own name.) Here are some 
comma splices and their corrections: 

WRONG: Glue sticks fascinate Lola, glitter attracts Lulu. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: The comma joins two complete thoughts. 

RIGHT: Although glue sticks fascinate Lola, glitter attracts Lulu. 

ALSO RIGHT: Glue sticks fascinate Lola, but glitter attracts Lulu. 

RIGHT AGAIN: Glue sticks fascinate Lola; glitter attracts Lulu. 

Another example for you to consider: 

WRONG: As usual, Ludwig dove off the board without looking, Ratrug 
hopes to convince him of the value of caution. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: The comma joins two complete thoughts. 

RIGHT: Although Ludwi^waislDtaiitiowig.offTthe board without looking, 
Ratrug hopes to convince him of the value of caution. 




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ALSO RIGHT: As usual, Ludwig dove off the board without looking, and 
Ratrug hopes to convince him of the value of caution. 

RIGHT AGAIN: As usual, Ludwig dove off the board without looking. 
Ratrug hopes to convince him of the value of caution. 

Now you’re getting the hang of these: 

WRONG: The monkeys see, the monkeys do. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: Though short, each statement about the monkeys is a 
complete thought. 

RIGHT: The monkeys see, and the monkeys do. 

ALSO RIGHT: The monkeys see and the monkeys do. 

WHY IT IS ALSO RIGHT: When the sentences you are joining are very 
short, you may omit the comma before the conjunction. 

RIGHT AGAIN: Primates imitate. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The professor sits sedately on his sofa sniffing sweet scents, but no one 
else takes a moment to smell the flowers. 

B. The professor sits sedately on his sofa sniffing sweet scents but no one 
else takes a moment to smell the flowers. 

C. The professor sits sedately on his sofa sniffing sweet scents, no one else 
takes a moment to smell the flowers. 

D. The professor sits sedately on his sofa sniffing sweet scents. But no one 
else takes a moment to smell the flowers. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct because two complete thoughts are joined by 
the word but, which is preceded by a comma. Sentence B is incorrect, 
because the comma is missing. Sentence C is a comma splice; you can’t join 
two complete thoughts only by a comma. Sentence D is incorrect in formal 
English because the second part begins with but, technically an error. See the 
following paragraph for a more complete explanation of sentence D. 

Beginning a sentence with a word that joins equals (particularly and and but) 
is increasingly popular. This practice is perfectly acceptable in conversa- 
tional English and in informal writing (which is the sort you’re reading in this 
book). In formal English, beginning a sentence with a conjunction may still be 
considered incorrect. Be careful! (For more on sentence fragments, see 
Chapter 5.) 




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ClmpMr t7^0ttin0 Bitched: Marrying Sentences SI 



Attaching thoughts: Semi -colons 

The semi-colon is a funny little punctuation mark; it gets its name from 
another punctuation mark, the colon. (These days, the colon is frequently 
used to create smiley faces in e-mail messages.) The semi-colon is no less 
important or no less powerful than its relative. This punctuation mark is 
strong enough to attach one complete sentence to another, and it has some 
other useful abilities in lists. (See Chapter 15 for more information on lists.) 

The thing about semi-colons is that some people express strong feelings 
about them. I’ve seen writing manuals that proclaim, “Never use semi- 
colons!” with the same intensity of feeling as, say, “Don’t blow up the world 
with that nuclear missile.” Other people can’t get enough of them, sprinkling 
them like confetti on New Year’s. As far as I’m concerned, use them if you like 
them. Ignore them if you don’t. 

If you do put a semi-colon in your sentence, follow two general guidelines. 
First, attach equals — that is, two complete sentences — with a semi-colon. 
Don’t use the semi-colon to join nouns, (except in lists — see Chapter 15.) 
Second, use the semi-colon only to attach related ideas. When your reader 
encounters a semi-colon, he or she pauses a bit, but not for long. The semi- 
colon says, “More information coming.” So the reader has a right to expect a 
logical train of thought — not something completely new. Here’s an example: 

RIGHT: Grover was born in Delaware; he moved to Virginia when he 
was four. 

WRONG: I put nonfat yogurt into that soup; I like Stephen King’s books. 

In the first example, both parts of the sentence are about Grover’s living 
arrangements. In the second, those two ideas are, to put it mildly, not in the 
same universe. (At least not until Stephen King writes a book about a killer 
container of yogurt. It could happen.) 

Some logical semi-colon sentences, just to give you some role models: 

Lulu visits that tattoo parlor regularly; when she retires she plans to start 
a second career as a tattoo designer. 

Griselda mowed the lawn yesterday; she cut the electric cord in half at 
least twice. 

Cedric thinks that iced tea is best when it tastes like battery acid; no one 
drinks anything at Cedric’s house anymore. 

Lucilla detests purple pens; she’s just torn up her vocabulary quiz 
because the teacher graded it in a lovely shade of lilac. 

The pearl box is hardey^^^,^^^ g^ter; here’s a pair of pliers for 
the job. 




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Punctuate the following, adding or subtracting words as needed: 

Abner will clip the thorns from that rose stem he is afraid of scratching 
himself. 

Answer: Many combinations are possible: 

Abner will clip the thorns from that rose stem. He is afraid of scratching 
himself. 

Abner will clip the thorns from that rose stem; he is afraid of scratching 
himself. 

Abner will clip the thorns from that rose stem even though he is afraid of 
scratching himself. 

Abner will clip the thorns from that rose stem, but he is afraid of scratch- 
ing himself. 

Boss and Employee: Joining 
Ideas of Unequal Ranks 

In the average company, the boss runs the show. The boss has subordinates 
who play two important roles. They must do at least some work. They must 
also make the boss feel like the center of the universe. Leave the boss alone 
in the office, and everything’s fine. Leave the employees alone in the office, 
and pretty soon someone is swinging from the chandelier. 

Some sentences resemble companies. The “boss” part of a sentence is all 
right by itself; it expresses a complete thought (independent clause). The 
“employee” can’t stand alone; it’s an incomplete thought (also known as a 
fragment or subordinate clause ). For more information on independent and 
subordinate clauses see chapter 24. Together, the “boss” and the “employee” 
create a more powerful sentence. Check out some examples: 

BOSS: Mugwump ate the bagel. 

EMPLOYEE: After he had picked out all the raisins. 

JOINING 1: Mugwump ate the bagel after he had picked out all the raisins. 
JOINING 2: After he had picked out all the raisins, Mugwump ate the bagel. 

Try these on for size: 




BOSS: Lochness developed the secret microfilm. 
EMPLOYEE: ^e^use c Jie s iei?Tr amorous. 




Chapter7:Gettng Hitched: Marrying Sentences 



JOINING 1: Lochness developed the secret microfilm because he felt 
traitorous. 

JOINING 2: Because he felt traitorous, Lochness developed the secret 
microfilm. 

Here’s another: 

BOSS: Lulu will be screaming at exactly six o’clock. 

EMPLOYEE: Although she often argues for a quiet environment. 

JOINING 1: Lulu will be screaming at exactly six o’clock, although she 
often argues for a quiet environment. 

JOINING 2: Although she often argues for a quiet environment, Lulu will 
be screaming at exactly six o’clock. 

And another example: 

BOSS: The book bag is in the dragon’s cave. 

EMPLOYEE: that Ludwig lost 

JOINING: The book bag that Ludwig lost is in the dragon’s cave. 

The joined example sentences are all grammatically legal because they all 
contain at least one complete thought (the boss, also known as an indepen- 
dent clause). In several of the sample sentences, the less important idea is 
connected to the rest of the sentence by a subordinate conjunction, indicat- 
ing that the ideas are not of equal importance. See the next section for more 
information on subordinate conjunctions. 



Choosing subordinate conjunctions 

The conjunctions in the boss-employee type of sentence do double duty. 
These conjunctions emphasize that one idea (“boss” or independent clause) 
is more important than the other (“employee” or subordinate clause), and 
they also give some information about the relationship between the two 
ideas. These conjunctions are called subordinate conjunctions. Here are some 
common subordinate conjunctions: while, because, although, though, since, 
when, where, if, whether, before, until, than, as, as if, in order that, so that, 
whenever, and wherever. (Whew!) 

Check out how subordinate conjunctions are used in these examples: 

Sentence 1: Michael was shaving, (not a very important activity) 

Sentence 2: The earth<pakeAdestr©iyedntii©ieity. (a rather important 
event) 




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SftNG/ 




Avoiding false joiners 



Some words appearto be strong enough to join 
sentences, but in reality they're just a bunch of 
98-pound weaklings. Think of these words as 
guys who stuff socks in their sleeves, creating 
biceps without all the hassle of going to the 
gym. These fellows may look good, but the 
minute you need them to pick up a truck or 



something, they're history. False joiners include 
however, consequently, therefore, moreover, 
also, and furthermore. Use these words to add 
meaning to your sentences but not to glue the 
sentences together. For more information on the 
proper placement and punctuation associated 
with these false joiners, see Chapter 15. 



If these two sentences are joined as equals, the writer emphasizes both 
events: 

Michael was shaving, and the earthquake destroyed the city. 

Grammatically, the sentence is legal. Morally, this statement poses a problem. 
Do you really think that Michael’s avoidance of five-o’clock shadow is equal 
in importance to an earthquake that measures seven on the Richter scale? 
Better to join these clauses as unequals, making the main idea about the 
earthquake the boss: 

While Michael was shaving, the earthquake destroyed the city. 



or 



The earthquake destroyed the city while Michael was shaving. 

The while gives you time information, attaches the employee sentence to the 
boss sentence, and shows the greater importance of the earthquake. Not bad 
for five letters. 

Here’s another: 

Sentence 1: Esther must do her homework now. 

Sentence 2: Mom is on the warpath. 

In combining these two ideas, you have a few decisions to make. First of all, if 
you put them together as equals, the reader will wonder why you’re mention- 
ing both statements at the same time: 

Esther must do her homework now, but Mom is on the warpath, 
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CS>apter 7: Get ng Hitched: Marrying Sentences 



This joining may mean that Mom is running around the house screaming at 
the top of her lungs. Although Esther has often managed to concentrate on 
her history homework while blasting Smashing Pumpkins tapes at mirror- 
shattering levels, she finds that concentrating is impossible during Mom’s 
tantrums. Esther won’t get anything done until Mom settles down with a cup 
of tea. That’s one possible meaning of this joined sentence. But why leave 
your reader guessing? Try another joining: 

Esther must do her homework now because Mom is on the warpath. 

This sentence is much clearer: Esther’s mother got one of those little pink 
notes from the teacher (Number of missing homeworks: 323). Esther knows 
that if she wants to survive through high-school graduation, she’d better get 
to work now. One more joining to check: 

Mom is on the warpath because Esther must do her homework now. 

Okay, in this version Esther’s mother has asked her daughter to clean the 
garage. She’s been asking Esther every day for the last two years. Now the 
health inspector is due and Mom’s really worried. But Esther told her that 
she couldn’t clean up now because she had to do her homework. World War 
111 erupted immediately. 

Do you see the power of these joining words? These subordinate conjunc- 
tions strongly influence the meanings of the sentences. 



Steering clear of fragments 

Remember: Don’t write a sentence without a “boss” or independent clause, 
the section that can stand alone as a complete sentence. If you leave an 
“employee” all by itself, you’ve got trouble. An “employee” all by itself is 
called a sentence fragment. A sentence fragment is any set of words that 
doesn’t fit the definition of a complete sentence. Like run-on sentences, sen- 
tence fragments are felonies in formal English. Don’t let the number of words 
in sentence fragments fool you. Not all sentence fragments are short, though 
some are. Decide by meaning, not by length. 

Here are some fragments, so you know what to avoid: 

When it rained pennies from heaven 
As if he were king of the world 

After the ball was over but before it was time to begin the first day of the 
rest of your life and all those other cliches that you hear every day in the 

subway on your way to work 

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Whether Algernon likes it or not 




Q 2 Part Avoiding Common Errors 

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Because I said so 

Whether you like it or not, and despite the fact that you don’t like it, 
although I am really sorry that you are upset 

If hell freezes over 
and so on. 

Which is a sentence fragment? Which is a complete sentence? Which is a 
comma splice (a run-on)? 

A. Cedric sneezed. 

B. Because Cedric sneezed in the middle of the opera, just when the main 
character removed that helmet with the little horns from on top of her 
head. 

C. Cedric sneezed, I pulled out a handkerchief. 

Answers: Sentence A is complete. Sentence B is not really a sentence; it’s a 
fragment with no complete idea. Sentence C is a comma splice because it 
contains two complete thoughts joined only by a comma. 

Employing Pronouns to 
Combine Sentences 

A useful trick for combining short sentences legally is “the pronoun con- 
nection.” (A pronoun substitutes for a noun, which is a word for a person, 
place, thing, or idea. See Chapter 10 for more information.) Check out these 
combinations: 

Sentence 1: Amy read the book. 

Sentence 2: The book had a thousand pictures in it. 

Joining: Amy read the book that had a thousand pictures in it. 

Sentence 1: The paper map stuck to Wilbur’s shoe. 

Sentence 2: We plan to use the map to take over the world. 

Joining: The paper map, which we plan to use to take over the world, 
stuck to Wilbur’s shoe. 

Sentence 1: Margaret wants to hire a carpenter. 

Sentence 2: The carpenter will build a new ant farm for her pets. 

Joining: Margaret wants to nire a carpenter who will build a new ant farm 
for her pets. 





Cl^^h^llirngcMitched: Marrying Sentences 93 




Being that I like grammar 



Many people say being that to introduce a 
reason. Unfortunately, being that'is a grammat- 
ical felony in the first degree (if there are 
degrees of grammatical felonies — I'm a gram- 
marian, not a lawyer). Here's the issue: People 
use being thatas a subordinate conjunction, but 
being that'is not acceptable, at least in formal 
English usage. Try because. For example: 

WRONG: Being that it was Thanksgiving, 
Mugwump bought a turkey. 

RIGHT: Because it was Thanksgiving, 
Mugwump bought a turkey. 

WRONG: The turkey shed a tear or two, 
being that it was Thanksgiving. 

RIGHT: The turkey shed a tear or two, 
because it was Thanksgiving. 

You may like the sound of since in the sample 
sentences. Increasingly, since is a synonym for 
because, and so far civilization as we know it 
hasn't crumbled. The grammarians who like to 
predict the end of the world because of such 
issues have a problem with the since/because 



connection. They prefer to use since for time 
statements: 

I haven't seen the turkey since the ax came 
out of the box. 

Since you've been gone, I've begun an 
affair with Bill Bailey. 

Another grammatical no-no is irregardless. I 
think irregardlessis popular because it's a long 
word that feels good when you say it. Those r's 
just roll right off the tongue. Sadly, irregardless 
is not a conjunction. It's not even a word, 
according to the rules of formal English. Use 
regardless (not nearly so much fun to pro- 
nounce) or despite the fact that 

WRONG: Irregardless, we are going to eat 
you, you turkey! 

RIGHT: Regardless, we are going to eat you, 
you turkey! 

ALSO RIGHT: Despite the fact that you are a 
tough old bird, we are going to eat you, you 
turkey! 



Sentence 1: Ludwig wants to marry Ludmilla. 

Sentence 2: He’s been singing under her window. 

Joining: Ludwig, who has been singing under her window, wants to marry 
Ludmilla. 

Sentence 1: The tax bill was passed yesterday. 

Sentence 2: The tax bill will lower taxes for the top .00009% income 
bracket. 

Joining: The tax bill that was passed yesterday will lower taxes for the top 
.00009% income bracket. 

Alternate joining: The tax bill that was passed yesterday will lower taxes 
for Bill Gates. (Okay, I i'nterp^tfet3^cltl!ttep>m 




% 



Part II: Avoidina Common Errors 

3 www.watchtvsitcoms.com 



That, which, and who are pronouns. In the combined sentences, each takes 
the place of a noun. ( That replaces book, which replaces map, who replaces 
carpenter, who replaces Ludwig, that replaces tax bill.) These pronouns serve 
as thumbtacks, attaching a subordinate or less important idea to the main 
body of the sentence. 




That, which, and who (as well as whom and whose) are pronouns that may 
relate one idea to another. When they do that job, they are called relative pro- 
nouns. Relative pronouns often serve as subjects or objects of the subordi- 
nate or dependent clause. For more information on clauses see Chapter 24. 

Combine these sentences with a pronoun. 

Sentence 1: Cedric slowly tiptoed toward the poisonous snakes. 

Sentence 2: The snakes soon bit Cedric right on the tip of his long red nose. 




Answer: Cedric slowly tiptoed toward the poisonous snakes, which soon bit 
Cedric right on the tip of his long red nose. The pronoun which replaces 
snakes in sentence 2. 

Combine these sentences so that they flow smoothly. 

Sentence 1: Lochness slipped the microfilm into the heel of his shoe. 
Sentence 2: The shoe had been shined just yesterday by the superspy. 
Sentence 3: The superspy pretends to work at a shoeshine stand. 
Sentence 4: The superspy’s name is unknown. 

Sentence 5: The superspy’s code number is -4. 

Sentence 6: Lochness is terrified of the superspy. 



Answer: Dozens of joinings are possible. Here are two: 



Lochness slipped the microfilm into the heel of his shoe, which had been 
shined just yesterday by the superpy. The superspy, whose name is unknown 
but whose code number is -4, pretends to work at a shoeshine stand and 
terrifies Lochness. 



or 

After the shoe had been shined by the superspy, who pretends to work at a 
shoeshine stand, Lochness slipped the microfilm into the heel. Lochness is ter- 
rified by the superspy, whose name is unknown and whose code number is -4. 



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Chapter 8 

Do You Feel Bad or Badly? 
The Lowdown on Adjectives 
and Adverbs 



%**>■**•♦ i i « - * * • * + 

In This Chapter 

► Identifying adjectives and adverbs 

► Deciding whether an adjective or an adverb is appropriate 

► Understanding why double negatives are wrong 

► Placing descriptive words so that the sentence means what you intend 

«■ # # X * * - ' ■ V >#*»» • ••••« #*■•••• 



nM7'\\h the right nouns (names of persons, places, things, or ideas) and 
W W verbs (action or being words) you can build a pretty solid founda- 
tion in a sentence. The key to expressing your precise thoughts is to choose 
the correct descriptive words to enhance your sentence’s meaning. In this 
chapter I explain the two basic types of descriptive words of the English 
language — adjectives and adverbs. I also show you how to use each cor- 
rectly to add meaning to your sentence. 



In case you doubt the significance of descriptive words, take a look at this 
sentence: 



Grunhilda sauntered past Lord and Taylor’s when the sight of a 
Ferragamo Paradiso Pump paralyzed her. 

Will the reader fully comprehend the meaning of this sentence? What must 
the reader know in order to understand this sentence? Here’s a list: 

v* The reader should know that Lord and Taylor’s is a department store. 

The reader should be able to identify Ferragamo as an upscale shoe label. 

v* The reader should be familiar with a Paradiso Pump (a shoe style I 
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Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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i > A good vocabulary — one that includes saunter and paralyze — is helpful. 

v 0 A nice plus is some knowledge of Grunhilda and her obsession with the 
latest fashion in shoes. 

If all of those pieces are in place, or if the reader has a good imagination and 
the ability to use context clues in reading comprehension, your message will 
be understood. But sometimes you can’t trust the reader to understand the 
specifics of what you’re trying to say. In that case, descriptions are quite 
useful. Here’s Grunhilda, version 2: 

Grunhilda walked slowly past the stately Lord and Taylor’s department 
store when the sight of a fashionable, green, low-heeled dress shoe with 
the ultra-chic Ferragamo label paralyzed her. 

Okay, I overloaded the sentence a bit, but you get the point. The descriptive 
words help clarify the meaning of the sentence, particularly for the fashion- 
challenged. 

Now that I’ve driven home the point that descriptions are essential to the 
meaning of your sentence, I know you’re dying to learn more. Read on. 



Adding Adjectives 

An adjective is a descriptive word that changes the meaning of a noun or a 
pronoun. An adjective adds information on number, color, type, and other 
qualities to your sentence 




Where do you find adjectives? In the adjective aisle of the supermarket. Okay, 
you don’t. Most of the time you find them in front of a noun or pronoun — 
the one the adjective is describing. Keep in mind that adjectives can also 
roam around a bit. Here’s an example: 

Legghorn, sore and tired, pleaded with Lulu to release him from the head- 
lock she had placed on him when he called her “fragile. ” 



Sore and tired tells you about Legghorn. Fragile tells you about her. (Well, frag- 
ile tells you what Legghorn thinks of her. Lulu actually works out with free 
weights every day and is anything but fragile.) As you can see, these descrip- 
tions come after the words they describe, not before. 



Adjectives describing nouns 

The most common job for an adjective is describing a noun. Consider the 
adjectives poisonoi$ w ®r^!^mik8tfkbMi\n these sentences. Then decide 
which sentence would you like to hear as you walk through the jungle. 




Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or Badiy?v^hettawdown on Adjectives and Adverbs 



There is a poisonous snake on your shoulder. 

There is an angry poisonous snake on your shoulder. 
There is a rubber snake on your shoulder. 




The last one, right? In these three sentences, those little descriptive words 
certainly make a difference. Angry, poisonous, and rubber all describe snake, 
and all of these descriptions give you information that you would really like 
to have. See how diverse and powerful adjectives can be? 

Find the adjectives in this sentence. 

With a sharp ax, the faithful troll parted the greasy hair of the seven 
ugly ogres. 



Answer: sharp (describing ax), faithful (describing troll), greasy (describing 
hair), seven and ugly (describing ogres). 



Adjectives describing pronouns 

Adjectives can also describe pronouns (words that substitute for nouns): 

There’s something strange on your shoulder. (The adjective strange 
describes the pronoun something.) 

Everyone conscious at the end of Legghorn’s play made a quick exit. 

(The adjective conscious describes the pronoun everyone.) 

Anyone free should report to the meeting room immediately! (The adjec- 
tive free describes the pronoun anyone.) 



Attaching adjectives to (inking Verbs 

Adjectives may also follow linking verbs, in which case they describe the sub- 
ject of the sentence. To find an adjective after a linking verb, ask the question 
what. See Chapter 6 for more information. 

Just to review for a moment: Linking verbs join two ideas, associating one 
with the other. These verbs are like giant equal signs, equating the subject — 
which comes before the verb — with another idea after the verb. (See 
Chapter 2 for a full discussion of linking verbs.) 

Sometimes a linking verb joins an adjective (or a couple of adjectives) and a 
noun: 

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Lulu’s favorite dress is orange and purple. (The adjectives orange and 
purple describe the noun dress.) 




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The afternoon appears gray because of the nuclear fallout from Ratrug’s 
cigar. (The adjective gray describes the noun afternoon.') 

Legghorn’s latest jazz composition sounds great. (The adjective great 
describes the noun composition.) 



Pop the question: Identifying adjectives 

To find adjectives, go to the words they describe — nouns and pronouns. 
Start with the noun and ask it three questions. (Not “What’s the next hot dot- 
com?” or “Will you marry me?” This is grammar, not life.) Here are the three 
questions: 

u 0 How many? 
u 0 Which one? 
v 0 What kind? 




Take a look at this sentence: 

Lochness placed three stolen atomic secrets inside his cheese burrito. 

You see three nouns: Lochness, secrets, and burrito. Lochness has led a color- 
ful life, but you can’t find the answer to the following questions: How many 
Lochnesses? Which Lochness? What kind of Lochness? No words in the sen- 
tence provide that information, so no adjectives describe Lochness. 

But try these three questions on secrets and burrito and you do come up with 
something: How many secrets? Answer: three. Three is an adjective. Which 
secrets? What kind of secrets? Answer: stolen and atomic. Stolen and atomic are 
adjectives. The same goes for burrito: What kind? Answer: cheese. Cheese is 
an adjective. 



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Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or BacMy^vFIvet^wdoifvn on Adjectives and Adverbs 




His answers one of the questions. (Which burrito? Answer: his burrito .) His is 
working as an adjective, but his is also a pronoun. Don’t worry about the dis- 
tinction, unless you’re goal is to be an authority on the subject (sure to get 
you some laughs at parties). Some English textbooks call his a pronoun, and 
others call his an adjective. Whatever you want to call it, his functions in the 
same way in the sentence. This kind of completely irrelevant discussion gives 
English teachers a bad reputation. 



Look at another sentence: 



The agonized glance thrilled Lochness’s rotten, little, hard heart. 




This sentence has three nouns. One (Lochness’s) is possessive. If you ask how 
many Lochness ’s, which Lochness ’s, or what kind of Lochness ’s, you get no 
answer. The other two nouns, glance and heart, do yield an answer. What kind 
of glance? Agonized glance. What kind of heart? Rotten, little, hard heart. So 
agonized, rotten, little, and hard are all adjectives. 

You may notice that a word changes its part of speech depending upon how 
it’s used in the sentence. In the last sample sentence, glance is a noun, 
because glance is clearly a thing. Compare that sentence to this one: 

Lochness and Ludwig glance casually at the giant television screen. 



Here glance is not a thing; it is an action that Lochness and Ludwig are per- 
forming. In this example sentence, glance is a verb. The moral of the story? 
Read the sentence, see what the word is doing, and then — if you like — give 
it a name. 



Stalking the Common Adverb 

Adjectives aren’t the only descriptive words. Adverbs — words that alter the 
meaning of a verb, an adjective, or another adverb — are another type of 
description. Check these out: 

The boss regretfully said no to Philpot’s request for a raise. 

The boss furiously said no to Philpot’s request for a raise. 

The boss never said no to Philpot’s request for a raise. 

If you’re Philpot, you care whether the words regretfully, furiously, or never are 
in the sentence. (Of course, if you’re the boss, you don’t care at all. You do a 
Nancy Reagan and “just say no.”) Regretfully, furiously, and never are all 
adverbs. Notice how adverbs add meaning in these sentences: 

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Cedric sadly sang Legghorn’s latest song. (Perhaps Cedric is in a bad mood.) 

Cedric sang Legghorn’s latest song reluctantly. (Cedric doesn’t want to sing.) 

Cedric hoarsely sang Legghorn’s latest song. (Cedric has a cold.) 

Cedric sang Legghorn’s latest song quickly. (Cedric is in a hurry.) 

Cedric sang even Legghorn’s latest song. (Cedric sang everything, and 
with Legghorn’s latest, he hit the bottom of the barrel.) 

Pop the Question: Finding the adverb 

Adverbs mostly describe verbs, giving more information about an action. 
Nearly all adverbs — enough so that you don’t have to worry about the ones 
that fall through the cracks — answer one of these four questions: 

u* How? 
v 0 When? 
u 0 Where? 
v 0 Why? 




To find the adverb, go to the verb and pop the question. (See Chapter 2 for 
information on finding the verbs.) Look at this sentence: 

Ludmilla secretly swiped the Sacred Slipper of the Potomac Princess yes- 
terday and then happily went home. 

You note two verbs: swiped and went. Take each one separately. Swiped how? 
Answer: swiped secretly. Secretly is an adverb. Swiped when? Answer: swiped 
yesterday. Yesterday is an adverb. Swiped where? No answer. Swiped why? 
Knowing Ludmilla, I’d say she stole for the fun of it, but you find no answer in 
the sentence. 

Go on to the second verb in the sentence. Went how? Answer: went happily. 
Happily is an advefW v W%^Wtf#f^^ went then. Then is an adverb. Went 





Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or Badl^lJieitLotMdoMmion Adjectives and Adverbs 




where? Answer: went home. Home is an adverb. Went why? Probably to drink 
champagne out of the slipper, but again, you find no answer in the sentence. 

Here’s another example: 

Eggworthy soon softly snored and delicately slipped away. 

You identify two verbs again: snored and slipped. First one up: snored. Snored 
how? Answer: snored softly. Softly is an adverb. Snored when? Answer: snored 
soon. Soon is an adverb. Snored where? No answer. Snored why? No answer 
again. Now for slipped. Slipped how? Answer: slipped delicately. Delicately is 
an adverb. Slipped where? Answer: slipped away. Away is an adverb. Slipped 
when? No answer. Slipped why? No answer. The adverbs are soon, delicately, 
and away. 




Adverbs can be lots of places in a sentence. If you’re trying to find them, rely 
on the questions how, when, where, and why, not the location. Similarly, a 
word may be an adverb in one sentence and something else in another sen- 
tence. Check out this example: 

Griselda went home in a huff because of that slammed door. 



Home is where the heart is, unless you are in Lochness’s cabin. 
Home plate is cleaned by the umpire. 



In the first example, home tells you where Griselda went, so home is an 
adverb in that sentence. In the second example, home is a place, so home is a 
noun in that sentence. In the third example, home is an adjective, telling you 
what kind of plate. 



Final answer: pop the question and see if you reveal an adverb, adjective, or 
another part of speech. 



Adverbs describing adjectives 
and other adverbs 

Adverbs also describe other descriptions, usually making the description 
more or less intense. (A description describing a description? Give me a 
break! But it’s true.) Here’s an example: 

An extremely unhappy Ludwig flipped when his pet frog learned to talk. 

How unhappy? Answer: extremely unhappy. Extremely is an adverb describing 
the adjective unhappy. 



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Sometimes the questions you pose to locate adjectives and adverbs are 
answered by more than one word in a sentence. In the previous example sen- 
tence, if you ask, “ Seemed when?” the answer is when his pet frog learned to 
talk. Don’t panic. These longer answers are just different forms of adjectives 
and adverbs. For more information, see Chapters 9 and 24. 



Now back to work. Here’s another example: 

Once he began to speak, Ludwig’s very talkative pet frog wouldn’t stop. 

How talkative? Answer: very talkative. Very is an adverb describing the adjec- 
tive talkative. 



And another: 



Ludwig’s frog croaked quite hoarsely. 

This time an adverb is describing another adverb. Hoarsely is an adverb 
because it explains how the frog croaked. In other words, hoarsely describes 
the verb croaked. How hoarsely? Answer: quite hoarsely. Quite is an adverb 
describing the adverb hoarsely, which in turn describes the verb croaked. 

In general, you don’t need to worry too much about adverbs that describe 
adjectives or other adverbs; only a few errors are associated with this type of 
description. See “Sorting out adjective/adverb pairs” later in this chapter for 
some tips. 



Distinguishing Between 
Adjectives and Adverbs 

Does it matter whether a word is an adjective or an adverb? Some of the time, 
no. You’ve been talking and writing happily for years, and you’ve spent very 
little time worrying about this issue. In your crib, you demanded, “I want a 
bottle NOW, Mama.” You didn’t know you were adding an adverb to your sen- 
tence. For that Y« u were making a sentence. You 

were just hungry. But some of the time knowing the difference is helpful. In 




Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or BadLy^aThMawdawn on Adjectives and Adverbs 103 



this section I tell you how to apply the -ly test to sort adjectives from adverbs 
and how to decide between some commonly confused pairs of adjectives and 
adverbs. 



Sorting adjectives from 
adverbs: The -iy test 

Strictly is an adverb, and strict is an adjective. Nicely is an adverb, and nice is 
an adjective. Generally is an adverb, and general is an adjective. Lovely is a . . . 
gotcha! You were going to say adverb, right? Wrong. Lovely is an adjective. But 
you can use the -ly test for many adverbs. Just keep in mind that soon, now, 
home, fast, and many other words that don’t end in -ly are adverbs too. The 
best way to tell if a word is an adverb is to ask the four adverb questions: 
how, when, where, and why. If the word answers one of those questions, it’s 
an adverb. 




O.UI z 




As Wayne from the movie Wayne’s World would say, “One of the most 
common adverbs ends in ly — NOT.” Not is an adverb because it reverses the 
meaning of the verb from positive to negative. While I’m speaking of not, I 
should remind you to avoid double negatives. In many languages (Spanish, 
for example), doubling or tripling the negative adjectives and adverbs or 
throwing in a negative pronoun or two simply makes your denial stronger. In 
Spanish, saying “I did not kill no victim” is okay. In English, however, that sen- 
tence is a confession. English grammar, supremely irrational in a million ways 
(see Chapter 3 on irregular verbs!) decides that strict logic is best in sen- 
tences with negatives. If you did not kill no victim, you killed at least one 
victim. In other words, two negatives equal a positive. You can put a lot of 
negatives together; just don’t put them in the same sentence. (Other types of 
double negatives may trip you up. See Chapter 22 for more information.) 

Identify the adjectives and adverbs in the following sentences. 

A. Thank you for the presents you gave us yesterday. 

B. The lovely presents you gave us smell like old socks. 

C. The presents you kindly gave us are very rotten. 



Answers: In sentence A, yesterday is an adverb, describing when you gave the 
presents. In sentence B, lovely is an adjective describing the noun presents. 
Old is an adjective describing socks; sentence B has no adverbs. In sentence 
C, the adverb is kindly and it describes the verb gave. Also in sentence C, the 
adverb very describes the adjective rotten. Rotten is an adjective describing 
presents. 



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Try one more. Find the adjectives and adverbs. 

The carefully decorated purse that Legghorn knitted is quickly fraying 
around the edges. 

Answers: The adverb carefully describes the adjective decorated. The verb is 
fraying is described by the adverb quickly. 



Sorting out adjectiOe/adOerb pairs 

Time for some practice in choosing between adjectives and adverbs. First I 
show you some easy pairs, ones that allow you to apply the -ly test. Then I 
look at some irregular pairs. 

The most common adjective/adverb pairs are distinguished by the letters -ly. 
Sneak a peek at these examples: 

WRONG: Abernathy stopped sudden when the stop sign loomed. 

RIGHT: Abernathy stopped suddenly when the stop sign loomed. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: The adverb suddenly describes how Abernathy stopped. 

Here’s more: 

WRONG: Legghorn will grin casual when he swoops down on the nest of 
spies. 

RIGHT: Legghorn will grin casually when he swoops down on the nest of 
spies. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: The adverb casually describes how Legghorn will grin. 
ALSO RIGHT: Legghorn’s casual grin is deceiving. 

WHY IT IS ALSO RIGHT: The adjective casual describes the noun grin. 

Don’t stop now; check these examples: 

WRONG: The syrup tasted sweetly when Eggworthy sipped it. 

RIGHT: The syrup tasted sweet when Eggworthy sipped it. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: The adjective sweet describes the noun syrup. Tasted is a 
linking verb, so the adjective that follows the verb describes the subject. 

ALSO RIGHT: Eggworthy drowns his pancakes in sweet syrup. 

WHY IT IS ALSO RIGHT: The adjective sweet describes the noun syrup. 



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Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or BadlY?vXhjetytwdown on Adjectives and Adverbs 105 



And one last set: 

WRONG: Legghorn, unlike Lochness, plays clean on the football field. 
RIGHT: Legghorn, unlike Lochness, plays cleanly on the football field. 
WHY IT IS RIGHT: The adverb cleanly describes how Legghorn plays. 

Remember: Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns, and adverbs describe 
verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. 

Choosing between adjectives and adverbs — some tough pairs 

The sentences in the preceding section were easy. Your “ear” for good 
English probably told you the proper word choice. However, at times, your 
ear may not automatically tell you which word is correct. In this section I 
show you some confusing pairs, including good/well, bad/badly, and contin- 
ual/continuous. 



Choosing between good and Weii 

If I am ever elected president of the universe, one of the first things I’m going 
to do (after I get rid of apostrophes — see Chapter 12) is to drop all irregular 
forms. Until then, you may want to read about good and well. 

Good is an adjective, and well is an adverb, except when you’re talking about 
your health: 

I am good. 

Good is an adjective here. The sentence means I have the qualities of goodness 
or / am in a good mood. Or the sentence is a really bad pickup line. 

I am well. 



Well is an adjective here. The sentence means I am not sick. 



I play the piano well. 




This time well is an adverb. It describes how I play. In other words, the 
adverb well describes the verb play. The sentence means that I don’t have to 
practice anymore. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. When asked how he was feeling, Ludwig smiled at his ex-girlfriends and 
replied, “Not well.” 



B. When asked how he was feeling, Ludwig smiled at his ex-girlfriends and 
, llKT . , „ www.watcnwsitcomsxom 

replied, Not good. 




106 Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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Answer: Sentence A is correct because Ludwig’s ex-girlfriends are inquiring 
about his health. 

Try one more. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Eggworthy did not perform good on the crash test. 

B. Eggworthy did not perform well on the crash test. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct because the adverb well describes the verb did 
perform. Did perform how? Answer: did perform well 

Choosing between bad and badly 

Bad is a bad word, at least in terms of grammar. Confusing bad and badly is 
one of the most common errors. Check out these examples: 

I felt badly. 

I felt bad. 

Badly is an adverb (Remember the -ly test mentioned earlier in this chapter?), 
and bad is an adjective. Which one should you use? Well, what are you trying 
to say? In the first sentence, you went to the park with your mittens on. The 
bench had a sign on it: “WET PAINT.” The sign looked old, so you decided to 
check. You put your hand on the bench, but the mittens were in the way. You 
felt badly — that is, not very accurately. In the second sentence, you sat on 
the bench, messing up the back of your coat with dark green stripes. When 
you saw the stripes, you felt bad — that is, you were sad. In everyday speech, 
of course, you’re not likely to express much about feeling badly. Not that 
many people walk around testing benches, and not that many people talk 
about their ability to feel. So 99.99 percent of the time you feel bad — unless 
you’re in a good mood. 



Choosing between continuous and continual 

Another pair that may confuse you is continuous and continual. Read this 
paragraph: 

The continual interruptions are driving me crazy. Every ten minutes 
someone barges in and asks me where the coffee machine is. Do I look 
like a coffeehouse? I’ve been working continuously for seven hours, and 
my feet are now numb. Perhaps I’ll stop for a while and find that coffee 
machine. 

Continual refers to events that happen over and over again, but with breaks 
in between each instance. Continuous means without stopping. Continuous 
noise is steady, uninterrupted, like the drone of the electric generator in your 
local power plant. Continual noise is what you hear when I go bowling. You 
hear silence (that’sA/wherafc&tete^thenpins), a little noise (that’s when the 




Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or Ba41y?wFhBt4oMfdowffi on Adjectives and Adverbs 



ball rolls down the alley), and silence again (that’s when the ball hits the 
gutter). After an hour you hear noise (that’s when I finally hit something). 
Here are some examples: 

WRONG: Ratrug screamed continually until Lulu stuffed rags in his mouth. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: Ratrug’s screams don’t come and go. When he’s 
upset, he’s really upset, and nothing shuts him up except force. 

RIGHT: Ratrug screamed continuously until Lulu stuffed rags in his mouth. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: In this version, he takes no breaks. 

Check out another set of examples: 

WRONG: Ludmilla’s continuous attempts to impress Ludwig were fruitless, 
including the fruit basket she sent him on Monday and the piranha she 
Fed-Exed on Tuesday. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: Ludmilla’s attempts stop and start. She does one 
thing on Monday, rests up, and then does another on Tuesday. 

RIGHT: Ludmilla’s continual attempts to impress Ludwig were fruitless, 
including the fruit basket she sent him on Monday and the piranha she 
Fed-Exed on Tuesday. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: Now the sentence expresses a recurring action. 

Adjectives and adverbs that took the same 

Odd words here and there (and they are odd) do double duty as both adjec- 
tives and adverbs. They look exactly the same, but they take their identity as 
adjectives or adverbs from the way that they function in the sentence. Take a 
look at these examples: 

Upon seeing the stop sign, Abernathy stopped short, (adverb) 

Abernathy did not notice the sign until the last minute because he is too 
short to see over the steering wheel, (adjective) 

Lola’s advice is right: Abernathy should not drive, (adjective) 

Abernathy turned right after his last-minute stop, (adverb) 

Abernathy came to a hard decision when he turned in his license, (adjective) 

Lola tries hard to schedule some time for Abernathy, now that he is ear- 
less. (adverb) 

The English language has too many adjectives and adverbs to list here. If 
you’re unsure about a particular word, check the dictionary for the correct 
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Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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Which sentence is correct? 

A. It was real nice of you to send me that bouquet of poison ivy. 

B. It was really nice of you to send me that bouquet of poison ivy. 

Answer: B. How nice? Really nice. Real is an adjective and really is an adverb. 
Adverbs answer the question how. 

Avoiding Common Mistakes With 
Adjectives and Adverbs 

A few words — even, almost, only, and others — often end up in the wrong 
spots. If these words aren’t placed correctly, your sentence may say some- 
thing that you didn’t intend. 



Placing eOen 

Even is one of the sneaky modifiers that can land any place in a sentence — 
and change the meaning of what you’re saying. Take a look at this example: 

It’s two hours before the grand opening of the school show. Lulu and 
Legghorn have been rehearsing for weeks. They know all the dances, and 
Lulu has only one faint bruise left from Legghorn ’s tricky elbow maneu- 
ver. Suddenly, Legghorn’s evil twin Lochness, mad with jealousy, “acci- 
dentally” places his foot in Legghorn’s path. Legghorn’s down! His ankle 
is sprained! What will happen to the show? 

v 0 Possibility 1: Lulu shouts, “We can still go on! Even Lester knows the 
dances.” 

u 0 Possibility 2: Lulu shouts, “We can still go on! Lester even knows the 
dances.” 

u 0 Possibility 3: Lulu shouts, “We can still go on! Lester knows even the 
dances. ” 

What’s going on here? These three statements look almost the same, but they 
aren’t. Here’s what each one means: 

u 0 Possibility 1: Lulu surveys the fifteen boys gathered around Legghorn. 
She knows that any one of them could step in at a moment’s notice. 

After all, the dances are very easy. Even Lester, the clumsiest boy in the 
class, knows th'evdwBted^slfc©of®np(tosfer can perform the role, it will be a 
piece of cake for everyone else. 





Chapter 8: Do You Feel Bad or Bad(^?^tetL(MMdiOwni on Adjectives and Adverbs 109 



l u 0 Possibility 2: Lulu surveys the fifteen boys gathered around Legghorn. It 
doesn’t look good. Most of them would be willing, but they’ve been busy 
learning other parts. There’s no time to teach them Legghorn ’s role. 
Then she spies Lester. With a gasp, she realizes that Lester has been 
watching Legghorn every minute of rehearsal. Although the curtain will 
go up very soon, the show can still be saved. Lester doesn’t have to 
practice; he doesn’t have to learn something new Lester even knows the 
dances. 

; u 0 Possibility 3: The whole group looks at Lester almost as soon as 

Legghorn hits the floor. Yes, Lester knows the words. He’s been reciting 
Legghorn’s lines for weeks now, helping Legghorn learn the part. Yes, 
Lester can sing; everyone’s heard him. But what about the dances? 
There’s no time to teach him. Just then, Lester begins to twirl around 
the stage. Lulu sighs with relief. Lester knows even the dances. The show 
will go on! 

Got it? Even is a description; even describes the words that follow it. To put it 
another way, even begins a comparison: 

v 0 Possibility 1: even Lester (as well as everyone else) 

Possibility 2: even knows (doesn’t have to learn) 

<> Possibility 3: even the dances (as well as the songs and words). 

So here’s the rule. Put even at the beginning of the comparison implied in the 
sentence. 



Placing almost 

Almost is another tricky little modifier to place. Here’s an example: 

Last night Lulu wrote for almost an hour and then went rollerblading. 



and 



Last night Lulu almost wrote for an hour and then went rollerblading. 

In the first sentence, Lulu wrote for 55 minutes and then stopped. In the 
second sentence, Lulu intended to write, but every time she sat down at the 
computer, she remembered that she hadn’t watered the plants, called her 
best friend Lola, made a sandwich, and so forth. After an hour of wasted time 
and without one word on the screen, she grabbed her rollerblades and left. 

Almost begins the comparison. Lulu almost wrote, but she didn’t. Or Lulu 
wrote for almost an hour, In deciding where to put 

these words, add the missing words and see whether the position of the word 
makes sense. (I discuss comparisons further in Chapter 17.) 




10 Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 




Placing only 

If only the word only were simpler to understand! Like the other tricky words 
in this section, only changes the meaning of the sentence every time its posi- 
tion is altered. For example: 

Only Lochness went to Iceland last summer. (No one else went.) 

Lochness only went to Iceland last summer. (He didn’t do anything else.) 

Lochness went only to Iceland last summer. (He skipped Antarctica.) 

Lochness went to Iceland only last summer. (Two possible meanings: 1) 
He didn’t go three years ago or at any other time — just last summer. 2) 
The word only may mean just, as in recently :) 



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Chapter 9 

Prepositions and Interjections 
and Articles, Oh My! 
Other Parts of Speech 

In This Chapter 

Recognizing prepositions and prepositional phrases 
Choosing pronouns for objects of prepositions 
Enlivening your writing with interjections 
Using articles correctly 



l^ow does the proverb go? Little things mean a lot? Whoever said that 
W W was probably talking about prepositions. Some of the shortest words in 
the language — at least most of them — these little guys pack a punch in 
your sentences. All the more reason to use them correctly. In this chapter, I 
explain everything you always wanted to know about prepositions but hoped 
you wouldn’t have to ask. I also give you the basics on interjections (the rarest 
parts of speech) and articles (the most common words in the language). 



Proposing Relationships: Prepositions 

Imagine that you encounter two nouns: aardvark and book. (A noun is a word 
for a person, place, thing, or idea.) How many ways can you connect the two 
nouns to express different ideas? 

the book about the aardvark 
the book by the aardvark 
the book behind the aardvark 



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112 Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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the book in front of the aardvark 
the book near the aardvark 
the book under the aardvark 

The italicized words relate two nouns to each other. These relationship words 
are called prepositions. Prepositions may be defined as any word or group of 
words that relates a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence. 

Sometime during the last millennium when I was in grammar school, I had to 
memorize a list of prepositions. (How quaint, right? We had inkwells, too.) I 
was so terrified of Sister Saint Vincent, my seventh grade teacher, that not 
only did I learn the list, I made it part of my being. In fact, I can still recite it. 

I don’t think memorizing prepositions is worth the time, but a familiarity 
would be nice. In other words, don’t marry the preposition list. Just date it a 
few times. Take a look at Table 9-1 for a list of some common prepositions: 



Table 9-1 




Common Prepositions 




about 


above 


according to 


across 


after 


against 


along 


amid 


among 


around 


at 


before 


behind 


below 


beside 


besides 


between 


beyond 


by 


concerning 


down 


during 


except 


for 


from 


in 


into 


like 


of 


off 


on 


over 


past 


since 


through 


toward 


underneath 


until 


up 


upon 


with 


within 


without 





The objects of my affection: Prepositional 
phrases and their objects 

Prepositions never travel alone; they’re always with an object. In the exam- 
ples in the previous section, the object of each preposition is aardvark. Just 
to get all the annoyfct^g^pg^pgy^y^ with at once, a prepositional phrase 
consists of a preposition and an object. The object of a preposition is always 













Chapter 9: Prepositions and lnterjectii^^ l ^fig|^s c JJ)i My! Other Parts of Speech 113 



a noun or a pronoun, or perhaps one or two of each. (A pronoun is a word 
that takes the place of a noun, like he for Eggworthy and so forth.) 

Here’s an example: 

In the afternoon, the snow pelted Eggworthy on his little bald head. 

This sentence has two prepositions: in and on. Afternoon is the object of the 
preposition in, and head is the object of the preposition on. 

Why, you may ask, is the object head and not little or bald ? Sigh. I was hoping 
you wouldn’t notice. Okay, here’s the explanation. You can throw a few other 
things inside a prepositional phrase — mainly descriptive words. Check out 
these variations on the plain phrase of the aardvark: 

of the apologetic aardvark 

of the always apoplectic aardvark 

of the antagonizingly argumentative aardvark 

Despite the different descriptions, each phrase is still basically talking about 
an aardvark. Also, aardvark is a noun, and only nouns and pronouns are 
allowed to be objects of the preposition. So in the Eggworthy sentence, you 
need to choose the most important word as the object of the preposition. 
Also, you need to choose a noun, not an adjective. Examine his little bald 
head (the words, not Eggworthy’s actual head, which is better seen from a 
distance). Head is clearly the important concept, and head is a noun. Thus 
head is the object of the preposition. 



Pop the question: Questions that identify the objects of the prepositions 

All objects — of a verb or of a preposition — answer the questions whom? 
or what ? To find the object of a preposition, ask whom? or what? after the 
preposition. 




In this sentence you see two prepositional phrases: 

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Marilyn thought that the election of the aardvark to the senate was quite 
unfair. 






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The first preposition is of. Of what? Of the aardvark. Aardvark is the object of 
the preposition of The second preposition is to. To what? To the senate. 
Senate is the object of the preposition to. 

What is the object of the preposition in this sentence? 

The heroic teacher pounded the grammar rules into her students’ tired 
brains. 



Answer: Brains is the object of the preposition into. When you pop the ques- 
tion — into whom? or what? — the answer is her students ’ tired brains. The 
most important word is brains, which is a noun. 




Why do 1 need to knout this 7 

When you’re checking subject-verb pairs, you need to identify and then 
ignore the prepositional phrases. Why? Because the prepositional phrases 
are distractions. If you don’t ignore them, you may end up matching the verb 
to the wrong word. See Chapter 11 for more information on subject-verb 
agreement. You may also find it helpful to recognize prepositional phrases 
because sometimes, when you “pop the question” to find an adjective or an 
adverb, the answer is a prepositional phrase. Don’t panic. You haven’t done 
anything wrong. Simply know that a prepositional phrase may do the same 
job as an adjective or adverb. (See Chapter 8 for more on adjectives and 
adverbs.) 

Prepositional phrases fall into two large categories — adjectival phrases and 
adverbial phrases. You don’t have any reason at all to know this fact, so forget 
it immediately, unless you’re set on being an English know-it-all. 
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Chapter 9: Prepositions and Interject^ My! Other Parts of Speech 115 

You should pay attention to prepositions because choosing the wrong one 
may be embarrassing: 

Person 1 : May I sit next to you? 

Person 2: (smiling) Certainly. 

Person 1: May I sit under you? 

Person 2: (sound of slap) Help! Police! 




Are you talking to U Prepositions 
and pronouns 




A big preposition pitfall is pronouns. (Can you say that three times fast — 
without spitting?) A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun. The prob- 
lem with pronouns is that only some pronouns are allowed to act as objects 
of prepositions; they’re called object pronouns. (See Chapters 10 and 17 for 
details on pronoun rules.) Use the wrong pronoun — a non-object pronoun — 
and the grammar cops will be after you. 

The object pronouns, cleared to act as objects of the preposition, are me, 
you, him, her, it, us, them, whom, and whomever. 

Take a look at some sentences with pronouns as objects of the prepositions: 



Among Bilbo, Harry, and me there is no contest. (Me is one of the objects 
of the preposition among.j 

Without them, the bridge will fall out of Cedric’s mouth. (Them is the 
object of the preposition without — also, in case you’re wondering, it’s a 
dental bridge, not the Golden Gate.) 

Legghorn added an amendment to the bill concerning us, but the bill did 
not pass. (Us is the object of the preposition concerning . ) 




What is one of the most common errors in the use of object pronouns? Is 
the correct prepositional phrase between you and / or between you and me? 
Answer: The correct expression is between you and me. Between = the prepo- 
sition. You and me = the objects of the preposition. Me is an object pronoun. 
(I is a subject pronoun.) The next time you hear someone say between you 
and I, I expect you to recite the rule. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. According to Elberg and she, the aardvark’s nose is simply too long. 

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B. According to Elberg and her, the aardvark’s nose is simply too long. 




1 16 Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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Answer: Sentence B is correct. According to is the preposition. The object of 
the preposition is Elberg and her. Her is an object pronoun. ( She is a subject 
pronoun.) 

Most of the tough pronoun choices come when the sentence has more than 
one object of the preposition ( Elberg and her, for example, in the pop quiz). 
Your “ear” for grammar will probably tell you the correct pronoun when the 
sentence has a single pronoun object. You probably wouldn’t say according to 
she because it sounds funny (to use a technical term). 

If the sentence has more than one object of the preposition, try this rule of 
thumb — and I really mean thumb, at least when you’re writing. Take your 
thumb and cover one of the objects. Say the sentence. Does it sound right? 

According to Elberg 

Okay so far. Now take your thumb and cover the other object. Say the sen- 
tence. Does it sound right? 

According to she 

Now do you hear the problem? Make the change: 

According to her 
Now put the two back together: 

According to Elberg and her 

This method is not foolproof, but chances are good that you’ll get a clue to 
the correct pronoun choices if you check the objects one by one. 

A qood part of speech to end 
a sentence utith? 

As I write this paragraph, global warming is increasing, the stock market is 
sending out mixed signals, and the Yankees’ pitching staff is in deep trouble. 
In the midst of all these earth-shattering events, some people still walk 
around worrying about where to put a preposition. Specifically, they (okay, 

I must admit that sometimes I, too) worry about whether or not ending a 
sentence with a preposition is acceptable. Let me illustrate the problem: 

Tell me whom he spoke about. 

Tell me about whom he spoke. 

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Chapter 9: Prepositions and Interject^ MSn&MG&offlh My! Other Parts of Speech 117 



Here’s the verdict: Both sentences are correct, at least for most people and 
even for most grammarians. But not, I must warn you, for all. You know the 
kind of person who insisted on ignoring the celebrations at midnight on 
January 1, 2000, because technically the millennium didn’t really start until 
January 1, 2001? The kind of person who is right, but completely out of step 
with the rest of the culture? Well, those people still tsk-tsk when they hear a 
sentence that ends with a preposition. The rest of us have gotten over it. 
Unless you’re writing something for that kind of person, put the preposition 
wherever you like, including at the end of a sentence. 



Interjections Are Easy! 

Yes! An English topic that is foolproof. Interjections are exclamations that 
often express intense emotion. These words or phrases aren’t connected 
grammatically to the rest of the sentence. Check out these examples: 

Ouch ! I caught my finger in the hatch of that submersible oceanographic 
vessel. 

Curses, foiled again. 

Yes! We’ve finally gotten to a topic that is foolproof. 




Interjections may be followed by commas, but sometimes they’re followed 
by exclamation points or periods. The separation by punctuation shows the 
reader that the interjection is a comment on the sentence, not a part of it. (Of 
course, in the case of the exclamation point or period, the punctuation mark 
also indicates that the interjection is not a part of the sentence at all.) 

You can’t do anything wrong with interjections, except perhaps overuse 
them. Interjections are like salt. A little salt sprinkled on dinner perks up the 
taste buds; too much sends you to the telephone to order take-out. 



Articles : Mot Just for Magazines Anymore 

Another topic, this time almost foolproof. Articles are those little words — a, 
an, the — that sit in front of nouns. In meaning, the is usually more specific 
than an or a. 

Sentence 1: Melanie wants the answer, and you’d better be quick about it. 

This statement means that Melanie is stuck on problem 12, and her mother 
won’t let her go out until her homework is finished. A really good movie is 
playing at the cineplex, an^^W^e^^on^^phone, demanding the answer 
to number 12. 




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Sentence 2: Melanie wants an answer, and you’d better be quick about it. 



This statement means that Melanie simply has to have a date for the prom. 
She asked you a week ago, but if you’re not going to be her escort, she’ll ask 
someone else. She’s lost patience, and she doesn’t even care anymore 
whether you go or not. She just wants an answer. 




To sum up: Use the when you’re speaking specifically and an or a when 
you’re speaking more generally. 

The is called a definite article. A and an are called indefinite articles. 




A apple? An book? A precedes words that begin with consonant sounds (all 
the letters except a, e, i, o, and u ). An precedes words beginning with the 
vowel sounds a, e, i, and o. The letter u is a special case. If the word sounds 
like you, choose a. If the word sounds like someone kicked you in the stom- 
ach — uh — choose an. Another special case is the letter h. If the word starts 
with a hard h sound, as in horse, choose a. If the word starts with a silent 
letter h, as in herb, choose an. Here are some examples: 




an aardvark (a = vowel) 

a belly (b = consonant) 

an egg (e = vowel) 

a UFO ( U sounds like you) 

an unidentified flying object (u sounds like uh) 

a helmet (hard h) 

an hour (silent h) 

Special note: Sticklers-for-rules say an historic event. The rest of us say a his- 
toric event. 



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Chapter 10 

Everyone Brought Their 
Homework: Pronoun Errors 



In This Chapter 

Pairing pronouns with nouns 

Distinguishing between singular and plural pronouns 
Understanding possessive pronouns 
Selecting non-sexist pronouns 



#«/ronouns are words that substitute for nouns. Even though they’re useful, 
w pronouns can also be pesky. You see, English has many different types of 
pronouns, each governed by its own set of rules. (See Chapters 4 and 6 for 
information on subject and object pronouns.) 

The whole topic of pronouns is enough to give you a headache, so get out 
your aspirin. In this chapter, I concentrate on how to avoid the most common 
errors associated with this part of speech. 



Pairing Pronouns ufith Nouns 

To get started on everything you need to know about pronouns, take a close 
look at how pronouns are paired with nouns. A pronoun’s meaning can vary 
from sentence to sentence. Think of pronouns as the ultimate substitute 
teachers. One day they’re solving quadratic equations, and the next they’re 
doing push-ups in the gym. Such versatility comes from the fact that pro- 
nouns don’t have identities of their own; instead, they stand in for nouns. In a 
few very weird situations, pronouns stand in for other pronouns. I discuss 
pronoun-pronoun pairs later in this chapter. 



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120 Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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To choose the appropriate pronoun, you must consider the word that the 
pronoun is replacing. The word that the pronoun replaces is called the pro- 
noun’s antecedent. 

Identifying the pronoun-antecedent pair is really a matter of reading compre- 
hension. If the sentence (or in some cases, the paragraph) doesn’t make the 
pronoun-antecedent connection clear, the writing is faulty. Time to edit! But 
in most cases the meaning of the pronoun leaps off the page. Take a look at 
some examples: 

Hasenfeff stated his goals clearly: He wanted to take over the world. (The 
pronouns his and he refer to the noun Hasenfeff '.) 

The lion with a thorn in her paw decided to wear sneakers the next time 
she went for a walk in the jungle. (The pronouns her and she in this sen- 
tence refer to the noun lion.') 

Our cause is just! Down with sugarless gum! We demand that all bubble 
gum be loaded with sugar! (The pronouns our and we refer to the speak- 
ers, who aren’t named.) 

Tattered books will not be accepted because they are impossible to resell. 
(The pronoun they refers to the noun books.) 

Ludwig, who types five or six words a minute, is writing a new encyclope- 
dia. (The pronoun who refers to Ludwig.) 

Ameba and / demand that the microscope be cleaned before we begin the 
exam. (The pronoun / refers to the speaker. The pronoun we refers to 
Ameba and I.) 

When analyzing a sentence, you seldom find a noun that’s been replaced by 
the pronouns / and we. The pronoun / always refers to the speaker and we 
refers to the speaker and someone else. 

Similarly, the pronoun it sometimes has no antecedent: 

It is raining. 

It is obvious that Smyrna has not won the card-flipping contest. 

In the above sentences, it is just a place-filler, setting up the sentence for the 
true expression of meaning (First sample sentence: Take your umbrella and 
cancel the picnic. Second sample sentence: Smyrna’s flipping hand is broken 
and she has lost all her baseball cards.) 

Sometimes the meaning of the pronoun is explained in a previous sentence: 

Thistle’s ice cream cone is cracked. I don’t want it. (The pronoun it refers 
to the noun cone.) 

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Chapter 10: Even^^J^JJIi^ Homework: Pronoun Errors 121 



Don’t confuse its and it’s. One is a possessive pronoun (its ), and the other is a 
contraction (it’s) meaning “it is.” For more information on its and it’s, see the 
discussion later in this chapter. 

Identify the pronouns and their antecedents in this paragraph: 

Cedric arrived at his mother’s charity ball, although it was snowing and 
no taxis had stopped to pick him up. Once inside the ballroom, he 
glimpsed Lulu and her boyfriend dancing the tango. Their steps were 
strange indeed, for the orchestra was actually playing a waltz. As she 
sailed across the floor — her boyfriend had lost his grip — Lulu cried, 
“Help me!” 

Answer: Cedric arrived at his (Cedric’s) mother’s charity ball, although it (no 
antecedent) was snowing and no taxis had stopped to pick him (Cedric) up. 
Once inside the ballroom, he (Cedric) glimpsed Lulu and her (Lulu’s) boyfriend 
dancing the tango. Their (Lulu and boyfriend’s) steps were strange indeed, for 
the orchestra was actually playing a waltz. As she (Lulu) sailed across the 
floor — her (Lulu’s) boyfriend had lost his (boyfriend’s) grip — Lulu cried, 
“Help me T (Lulu). 

betiding between Singular 
and Pturat Pronouns 

All pronouns are either singular or plural. Singular pronouns replace singular 
nouns, which are those that name one person, place, thing, or idea. Plural 
pronouns replace plural nouns — those that name more than one person, 
place, thing, or idea. (Grammar terminology has flair, doesn’t it?) A few pro- 
nouns replace other pronouns; in those situations, singular pronouns replace 
other singular pronouns, and plurals replace plurals. You need to understand 
pronoun number — singulars and plurals — before you place them in sen- 
tences. Take a look at Table 10-1 for a list of some common singular and 
plural pronouns. 




Table 10-1 


Common Singular and Plural Pronouns 


Singular 


Plural 


1 We 


Me 


Us 


Myself 


Ourselves 



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(continued) 









122 



Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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Table 10-1 (continued) 


Singular 


Plural 


You 


You 


Yourself 


Yourselves 


He/She/It 


They/Them 


Himself/Herself/ltself 


Themselves 


Who 


Who 


Which 


Which 


That 


That 




Notice that some of the pronouns in Table 10-1 do double duty; they take the 
place of both singular and plural nouns or pronouns. (You think this double 
duty is a good idea? Hah! Wait until you get to the next chapter when you 
have to match singular and plural subjects with their verbs.) 



Most of the time choosing between singular and plural pronouns is easy. 
You’re not likely to say 



Ludmilla tried to pick up the ski poles, but it was too heavy. 



because ski poles (plural) and it (singular) don’t match. Automatically you say 
Ludmilla tried to pick up the ski poles, but they were too heavy. 






Matching ski poles with they should please your ear. 




Goldilocks and the three there's 



They're putting all their bets on the horse over 
there. In other words, there is a place. Their 
shows ownership. They're is short for they are. 
Some examples: 

RIGHT: "They're too short," muttered 
Eggworthy as he eyed the strips of bacon. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: They 're means they are. 

RIGHT: "Why don't you take some longer 
strips from their plates," su «^jyfe itcoms . 



WHY IT IS RIGHT: The plates belong to 
them — expressed by the possessive pro- 
noun their. 

RIGHT: "My arm is not long enough to reach 
over there,” sighed Eggworthy. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: There is a place (a place 
Eggworthy can't reach). 



Chapter 10: Everyone Brought Their Homework: Pronoun Errors 




If you’re learning English as a second language, your ear for the language is 
still in training. Put it on an exercise regimen of at least an hour a day of care- 
ful listening. A radio station or a television show in which reasonably edu- 
cated people are speaking will help you to train your ear. You’ll soon become 
comfortable hearing and choosing the proper pronouns. 



Using Singular and Plural 
Possessive Pronouns 

Possessive pronouns — those all-important words that indicate who owns 
what — also have singular and plural forms. You need to keep them straight. 
Table 10-2 helps you identify each type. 



Table 10-2 


Singular and Plural Possessive Pronouns 


Singular 


Plural 


my 


our 


mine 


ours 


your 


your 


yours 


yours 


his 


their/theirs 


her 


their 


hers 


theirs 


its 


their 


whose 


whose 




Do you have an its problem? I’m not talking about a poison ivy rash that you 
need to scratch all the time. I’m talking about a possessive pronoun and a 
contraction (a shortened word in which an apostrophe substitutes one or 
more letters). In other words, do you know the difference between its and it's? 



Its shows possession: 



The computer has exploded, and its screen is now decorating the ceiling. 



It’s means it is: www.watchtvsitcoms.com 



It’s raining cats and dogs, but I don’t see any alligators. 




Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

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An act of parliament 



For centuries the words they and their were 
allowed to refer to both singular and plural 
words. Such usage meant that the writer or 
speaker didn't have to make a gender choice 
because their didn't refer specifically to either 
men or women. 

But the fact that their could be both singular and 
plural bothered grammarian John Kirby, who 
declared in 1746 thatthe male gender was more 
universal than the female gender. Kirby made 
up a new rule saying that male terms should 
always be understood to include the female. (In 



other words, when you want to talk about some- 
one in a mixed-gender group, he and his are the 
words you need.) 

Enter Parliament, the chief law-making body of 
the mighty British Empire. In 1850, Parliament 
passed a law stating that masculine terms were 
always to be read as including females. 
Parliament actually enacted an official grammar 
rule! (If they had time for grammar, I wonder 
what they were neglecting.) Now if I could just 
get the misuse of whom declared a felony. . . . 




So it’s nice to know that grammar has its own rules. By the way, one of those 
rules is that no possessive pronoun ever has an apostrophe. Ever. Never. Never 
ever. Remember: If it owns something, dump the apostrophe. Here are some 
additional examples: 



WRONG: Its a rainy day, and Lochness’s dog is getting tired of plopping it’s 
paws into puddles. 



WHY IT IS WRONG: The first its should be It’s because it is a rainy day. 
The second its shouldn’t have an apostrophe because no possessive pro- 
noun ever has an apostrophe. 

RIGHT: It’s a rainy day, and Lochness’s dog is getting tired of plopping its 
paws into puddles. 



ALSO RIGHT: It’s a rainy day, and Lochness’s dog is getting tired of plop- 
ping his paws into puddles. 

WHY THE “ALSO RIGHT” SENTENCE IS ALSO RIGHT: It and its may refer to 
animals, but many people prefer to use he, she, his, and her tor pets. Of 
course, Lochness’s pet scares just about everyone, and because of all the 
animal hair, no one knows whether it is a he or a she. Personally, I’m going 
with it and its. 



WRONG: Its paws wrapped in towels, Lochness’s dog seems to be think- 
ing that its time for a new bone. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: The first its is okay because the paws belong to the 
dog. The second its needs an apostrophe because it is time. 

RIGHT: Its paws wrapped in towels, Lochness’s dog seems to be thinking 
that it’s time fowa.newhboitoms.com 







Chapter 10: EveiyenevBrsiifihtiFhetmHomework: Pronoun Errors 



Positioning Pronoun-Antecedent Pairs 




Keep the pronoun and its antecedent near each other. Often, but not always, 
they appear in the same sentence. Sometimes they’re in different sentences. 
Either way, the idea is the same: If the antecedent of the pronoun is too far 
away, the reader or listener may become confused. Check out this example: 



Bogsroyal picked up the discarded paper. Enemy ships were all around, 
and the periscope’s lenses were blurry. The sonar pings sounded like a 
Mozart sonata, and the captain’s hangnails were acting up again. Yet even 
in the midst of such troubles, Bogsroyal was neat. It made the deck look 
messy. 



It? What’s the meaning of it? You almost have to be an FBI decoder to find the 
partner of it (paper). Try the paragraph again. 



Enemy ships were all around, and the periscope’s lenses were blurry. The 
sonar pings sounded like a Mozart sonata, and the captain’s hangnails 
were acting up again. Yet even in the midst of such troubles, Bogsroyal 
was neat. He picked up the discarded paper. It made the deck look messy. 




Now the antecedent and pronoun are next to each other. Much better! 

Rewrite these sentences, moving the pronoun and antecedent closer together. 

Bogsroyal pulled out his handkerchief, given to him by Loella, the love of 
his life. He sniffed. His sinuses were acting up again. The air in the subma- 
rine was stale. He blew his nose. She was a treasure. 



Answer: Several possibilities exist. The most important correction involves 
Loella and she, now too far apart. Here is one answer: 

Bogsroyal pulled out his handkerchief, given to him by Loella, the love of 
his life. She was a treasure. He sniffed. His sinuses were acting up again. 
The air in the submarine was stale. He blew his nose. 




Some believe that position alone is enough to explain a pronoun-antecedent 
pairing. It’s true that a pronoun is more likely to be understood if it’s placed 
near the word it represents. In fact, you should form your sentences so that 
the pairs are neighbors. However, position isn’t always enough to clarify the 
meaning of a pronoun. The best way to clarify the meaning of a pronoun is to 
make sure that only one easily identifiable antecedent may be represented by 
each pronoun. If your sentence is about two females, don’t use she. Provide 
an extra noun to clarify your meaning. 



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120 Part Avoiding Common Errors 

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Look at this sentence: 

Hortensia told her mother that she was out of cash. 

Who is out of cash? The sentence has one pronoun — she — and two females 
( Hortensia , Hortensia’s mother). She could refer to either of the two nouns. 

The rule here is simple: Be sure that your sentence has a clear, understand- 
able pronoun-antecedent pair. If you can interpret the sentence in more than 
one way, rewrite it, using one or more sentences until your meaning is clear: 

Hortensia said, “Mom, can I have your ATM card? I looked in the cookie 
jar and you’re out of cash.” 

or 

Hortensia saw that her mother was out of cash and told her so. 

What does this sentence mean? 

Alexander and his brother went to Arthur’s birthday party, but he didn’t 
have a good time. 

A. Alexander didn’t have a good time. 

B. Alexander’s brother didn’t have a good time. 

C. Arthur didn’t have a good time. 

Answer: Who knows? Rewrite the sentence, unless you’re talking to someone 
who was actually at the party and knows that Arthur got dumped by his girl- 
friend just before his chickenpox rash erupted and the cops arrived. If your 
listener knows all that, the sentence is fine. If not, here are a few possible 
rewrites: 

Alexander and his brother went to Arthur’s party. Arthur didn’t have a 
good time. 

or 

Arthur didn’t have a good time at his own birthday party, even though 
Alexander and his brother attended. 

or 




Alexander and his brother went to Arthur’s party, but Arthur didn’t have 
a good time. 



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Chapter 10: Homework: Pronoun Errors 127 



Avoiding Common Pronoun Errors 

Most of the time, determining whether a pronoun should be singular or plural 
is easy. Just check the noun that acts as the antecedent, and bingo, you’re 
done. But sometimes a pronoun takes the place of another pronoun. The pro- 
nouns being replaced are particularly confusing because they’re singular, 
even though they look plural. In this section I tackle the hard cases, showing 
you how to handle these tricky pronouns. I also show you how to avoid sexist 
pronoun usage. 



Using troublesome singular 
pronouns proper tg 




Everybody, somebody, and no one (not to mention nothing and everyoney. 
These words should be barred from the English language. Why? Because 
matching these pronouns to other pronouns is a problem. If you match cor- 
rectly, your choices sound wrong. But if you match incorrectly, you sound 
right. Sigh. Here’s the deal. All of these pronouns are singular: 



u* The “ones”: one, everyone, someone, anyone, no one. 
u* The “things”: everything, something, anything, nothing. 
v* The “bodies”: everybody, somebody, anybody, nobody. 
v* And a few more: each, either, neither. 



These pronouns don’t sound singular. Everybody and everyone sound like a 
crowd. If you didn’t leave anyone out, if you included everyone or everybody, 
how can you be talking about a singular word? Well, you are. The logic (yes, 
logic applies, even though English grammar rules don’t always bother with 
logic) is that everyone talks about the members of a group one by one. You 
follow this logic, probably unconsciously, when you choose a verb. You 
don’t say 

Everyone are here. Let the party begin! 

You do say 

Everyone is here. Let the party begin! 

Picking the correct verb comes naturally, but picking the correct pronoun 
doesn’t. Check out this pair: 



Everyone was asked tp/\bl/iwitth^tbuitotl§rgum to the bubble-popping 
contest. 




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Everyone was asked to bring his or her bubble gum to the bubble- 
popping contest. 

Which one sounds right? The first one, I bet. Unfortunately, the second one is 
correct, formal English. 

The bottom line: When you need to refer to “ones,” “things,” “bodies,” and so 
on in formal English, choose singular pronouns to match (he/she, his/her) 
and avoid using “their.” 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Matilda the lifeguard says that nobody should wear their earplugs in the 
pool in case shark warnings are broadcast. 

B. Matilda the lifeguard says that nobody should wear his or her earplugs 
in the pool in case shark warnings are broadcast. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. Nobody is singular. His or her is singular. Their 
is plural. I know, I know, the sentence sounds horrible. 

Once upon a time, sentence A would’ve been accepted, even by authors that 
English teachers love, such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen. A little more 
than 100 years ago, however, sentence A was arrested by the grammar police. 
Now B is correct and A is not. (In conversational English, sentence A 
abounds. Actually, it abounds in formal English also; it’s wrong in both.) 

Try another. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Each of the computers popped its disk drive when the doughnut cream 
dripped in. 

B. Each of the computers popped their disk drives when the doughnut 
cream dripped in. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. The pronoun its refers to each of the computers. 
Each is singular, all the time. Think of each as converting a group of computers 
into one computer, followed by another, then another, and so on. Each makes 
you consider the computers one by one. Thus its — the singular pronoun — is 
correct. 

Try one more. Which sentence is correct? 

A. I’m sorry that somebody lost their bookbag, but I’ve lost my mind! 

B. I’m sorry that somebody lost his or her bookbag, but I’ve lost my mind! 

Answer: Sentence B is correct in formal English because somebody is singular 
and should be matched with a singular pronoun (his or her), not with a plural 
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Chapter 10: EveryonevfirotrghtifheiriHomework: Pronoun Errors 129 



Sex or gender? 



The word gender used to refer only to words. 
For example, the gender of his is male, and 
the gender of her is female. The word that 
describes male or female identity — the It's a 
boy! It's a girl! birth announcements sort of 
identity — is sex. But as everyone over the age 
of two minutes knows (okay, maybe not two 
minutes, but at a very young age) sex may also 
refer to an activity that greatly interests the 
human race. 

In the late twentieth century, feminists and 
others began to analyze the way men and 
women were treated by society, the way men 
and women related to each other, and many 
similar topics. To speak of sex in reference to 
these topics was correct according to the dic- 
tionary definition of sex. Naturally, the word sex 
sometimes caused participants in those very 
serious discussions to stop thinking about soci- 
etal roles and start thinking about, well, sex. 

A new word was clearly needed — one that 
distinguished between boy/girl identity and 



what they start thinking about when they reach 
puberty. Enter gender. The word already signi- 
fied the difference between his and hers, but it 
had the advantage of being separate from phys- 
ical pleasure. 

At least once a month for a few years, every 
article on feminism in my local newspaper (The 
New York Times) was followed by a letter from 
an outraged grammarian. The letters would say 
something like "You advocate gender equality 
but the word gender is an attribute of a word, 
not of a paycheck. You should advocate sexual 
equality." After a few more tsk-tsks, the writer 
would cite the dictionary and sign off. 

Despite all of those outraged grammarians (or 
perhaps because of them), the word genderleit 
the dictionary and settled comfortably into its 
new meaning. Gender is now accepted as a 
grammar term, designating male and female. 
Gender is also accepted when it sorts people, 
societal roles, and anything else into male and 
female categories. 



Steering clear of sexist pronouns 

In preparing to write this section, I typed “pronoun + gender” into a Web 
search engine and then clicked “search.” I wanted a tidbit or two from the 
Internet about the use of non-sexist language. I got more than a tidbit. In fact, 

I got over 700,000 hits. I can’t believe that so many people are talking about 
pronouns! Actually, talking is not quite the appropriate word. Arguing, war- 
ring, facing off, cursing, and a few other less polite terms come to mind. Here’s 
the problem. For many years, the official rule was that masculine terms 
(those that refer to men) could refer to men only or could be universal, refer- 
ring to both men and women. This rule is referred to as the masculine univer- 
sal. Here’s an example. In an all-female gym class the teacher would say: 

Everyone must bring her gym shorts tomorrow. 

and in an all-male gym class, the teacher would say, 

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Everyone must bring his gym shorts tomorrow. 








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Employing the masculine universal, in a mixed male and female gym class, 
the teacher would say, 



Everyone must bring his gym shorts tomorrow. 




Judging by the Internet, the battles over this pronoun issue aren’t likely to be 
over in the near future. My advice? I think you should say he or she and his or 
her when grammar requires such terms. The masculine universal excludes 
females and may offend your audience. 

However, you may say, 



Everyone must bring his or her gym shorts. 



or 



Everyone must bring his gym shorts. 



or 



All the students must bring their gym shorts. 



or 



Bring your gym shorts, you little creeps! 

All of these example sentences are grammatically correct. 



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Chapter 11 

Just Nod Your Head: 
About Agreement 

In This Chapter 

.* Distinguishing singular verb forms from plural verb forms 
Matching the subject to the verb 

Choosing the correct verb forms for questions and negative statements 
Knowing when to pay attention to prepositional phrases 
• Matching verbs to difficult subjects 



^^ollywood filmmakers and about a million songwriters have tried to con- 
¥ w vince the public that opposites attract. Grammarians have clearly not 
gotten that message! Instead of opposites, the English language prefers 
matching pairs. Matching, in grammar terminology, is called agreement. In 
this chapter, I explain agreement in number — the singular or plural quality of 
a word. Here’s the rule: You must match singular elements with other singu- 
lar elements, and you must pair plurals with other plurals. In this chapter, I 
show you how to make subjects and verbs agree. I tackle this issue in a 
couple of tenses and in questions, and then I show you some special cases — 
treacherous nouns and pronouns that are often mismatched. 



Writing Singular and Pturat Verbs 

If you’re a native speaker of English, you correctly match singular and plural 
subjects and verbs most of the time. Your ear for proper language effortlessly 
creates these subject-verb pairs. Helping you along with this task is the fact 
that in most tenses, you use exactly the same form for both singular and 
plural verbs. In this section I show you the forms that don’t change and the 
ones that do. 



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The unchanqeables 

When you’re writing or speaking regular verbs in simple past, simple future, 
past perfect, and future perfect tense, this topic is almost a free pass. (Some 
of the progressive forms change; see the next section for more detail.) The 
non-progressive forms of these verbs don’t change. Here are some samples, 
all with the regular verb to snore, of tenses that use the same form for both 
singular and plural subjects. 



Ludwig snored constantly, but his cousins snored only on national holidays. 
(The simple past tense verb snored matches both the singular subject 
Ludwig and the plural subject cousins .) 

Ludmilla will snore if she eats cheese before bedtime, but her bridesmaids 
will snore only after a meal containing sardines. (The simple future tense 
verb will snore matches both the singular subject Ludmilla and the plural 
subject bridesmaids .) 

Cedric had snored long before his tonsils were removed by that saber- 
toothed tiger. The tigers had snored nightly before they met Cedric. (The 
past perfect verb had snored matches both the singular subject Cedric 
and the plural subject tigers .) 




By the time this chapter is over, Lola will have snored for at least an hour, 
and her friends will have snored for an even longer period. (The future 
perfect verb will have snored matches both the singular subject Lola and 
the plural subject friends .) 

For more information on verb tenses, see Chapter 3. 



The chanqeables 



Have you just resolved to speak only in those unchanging tenses? Sorry! You 
won’t be able to keep to that resolution. The other tenses are crucial to your 
communication skills. But take heart. You need to know only a few principles 
to identify singular and plural verbs. 



Simple present tenses 

In simple present tense, nearly all the regular verb forms are the same for 
both singular and plural. If the subject of the sentence is I, we, or you, don’t 
worry. They all use the same verb, and number isn’t an issue. (/ snore, we 
snore, you snore .) 

In choosing simple present tense verbs, you do have to be careful when the 
subject is a singular noun (Lola, tribe, motorcycle, loyalty, and so on) or a 
plural noun (planes, trains, automobiles, and so on). You also have to be on 
your toes when the subject is a pronoun that replaces a singular noun 




Chapler/ffbyustftodrYour Head: About Agreement 133 



(he, she, it, another, someone, and so on). Finally, you have to take care when 
the subject is a pronoun that replaces a plural noun (they, both, several, and 
so on). To boil all this down to a simpler rule: Be careful when your sentence 
is talking about someone or something. You don’t need to worry about 
subject-verb agreement in sentences in which the subject is I, you, or we. 

For sentences that talk about someone or something, here’s how to tell the 
difference between the singular and plural forms of a regular verb: The singu- 
lar verb ends in s and the plural form doesn’t. Here are some examples of 
simple present tense regular verbs: 



Singular 


Plural 


the tiger bites 


the tigers bite 


Lulu rides 


they ride 


she screams 


the boys scream 


Lochness burps 


both burp 



When in Rome and Greece: Classical plurals 



Granted, the Coliseum is a magnificent sight, and 
the Greek myths are pretty cool. But those 
languages! Thanks to the ancient Romans 
and Greeks, a number of English words form 
their plurals in a strange way. Here are some 
singular/plural pairs: 

u 0 Alumnus/alumni: The singular, alumnus, is a 
masculine term. The plural may refer to 
groups of males, or, if you accept the mas- 
culine term as universal, alumni may refer to 
both males and females. (See Chapter 10.) 

v 0 Alumna/alumnae: The singular, alumna, is a 
feminine term. The plural refers to groups of 
females, though some speakers protest the 
masculine universal by using alumnae for 
both males and females. 

u 0 Analysis/analyses: Analysis is the singular, 
meaning "a course of psychological ther- 
apy" or, more generally, "a serious investi- 
gation or examination." The plural changes 
the /to e. 



u 0 Parenthesis/parentheses: (This sentence is 
in parenthesis, but I try not to write with too 
many parentheses because readers find 
more than three parentheses confusing.) 

p 0 Datum/data: Technically, data is the plural 
of datum and takes a plural verb ( the data 
are clear). However, more and more people 
are matching data with a singular verb (the 
data is clear). To be correct and to impress 
all your grammarian friends, match data 
with a plural verb. 

v 0 Phenomenon/phenomena: The singular term 
is phenomenon, a noun meaning "a marvel, 
a special occurrence or event" The plural 
term is phenomena, correct but so obscure 
nowadays that my computer thesaurus 
keeps trying to change it to phenomenon. 



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You guys understand, don't you? 



You may have noticed that the word you is both 
singular and plural. I can say, 

You are crazy. 

to Eggworthy when he is dancing around wear- 
ing only blue dye. I can also say. 

You are crazy. 

to all those people who think Martians con- 
structed the pyramids. In either case, I use the 
plural form of the verb (are). The fact that you is 
both singular and plural may be responsible for 
the popularity of such terms as you all, fall. 



youse (very big in New York City), you guys 
(ditto), and you people. These terms are colorful 
but not correct in formal English. Use you for 
both singular and plural subjects, and if you 
care enough, make the meaning clear with con- 
text clues: 

Today you must all wear clothes to the 
Introduction to Nudism class because the 
heat is broken. 

"I must have you and only you!" cried 
Ludwig to his soon-to-be sixth wife. 



Progressive tenses 

Progressive tenses — those that contain an -ing verb form — may also cause 
singular/plural problems. These tenses rely on the verb to be, a grammatical 
weirdo that changes drastically depending on its subject. Just be sure to 
match the subject to the correct form of the verb to be. (See Chapter 3 for all 
the forms of to be .) Check out these examples of progressive verbs: 

u* Singular present progressive: I am biting, you are biting, Agwamp is 
biting, no one is biting 

u* Plural present progressive: We are biting, you are biting, the tigers are 
biting, they are biting. 

u* Singular past progressive: I was biting, you were biting, Agwamp was 
biting, no one was biting. 

u* Plural past progressive: We were biting, you were biting, the tigers were 
biting , both were biting. 

In case you’re wondering about the future progressive, I’ll mention the good 
news: This one never changes! Singular and plural forms are the same (I will 
be biting, we will be biting, and so on). No problems here. 

Present perfect and future perfect tenses 

The present perfect and future perfect tenses (both progressive and non- 
progressive) contain forms of the verb to have. Use have when the subject is /, 
you, or a plural noun or pronoun. Use has when you’re talking about a singular 
noun or pronoun th^^gg^g^^gular noun. Some examples: 







Ch3pta^1;i4MSlcNod)Your Head: About Agreement 135 



v 0 Singular present perfect: I have bitten, I have been biting, you have bitten, 
you have been biting, Agwamp has bitten, Lola has been biting, she has 
bitten, everyone has been biting. 

u 0 Plural present perfect: We have bitten, we have been biting, you have 
bitten, you have been biting, the tigers have bitten, the tigers have been 
biting, several have bitten, they have been biting. 

Easier Than Marriage Counseling: 

Making Subjects amt Verbs Agree 

Once you’re able to tell a singular from a plural verb (see previous section), 
you can concentrate on matchmaking. Remember that you must always pair 
singular subjects with singular verbs, and plural subjects with plural verbs. 
No mixing allowed. 

Notice how in these sample sentences, singular subjects are matched with 
singular verbs, and plural subjects are matched with plural verbs: 

The ugly lawn gnome loves the lovely plastic elf. (gnome = singular sub- 
ject, loves = singular verb) 

The lovely plastic elf is pining after the ugly lawn gnome. (elf= singular 
subject, is pining = singular verb) 

The weeds are a problem to this unhappy couple, (weeds - plural subject, 
are = plural verb) 

The hedge clippers are their only hope! (clippers = plural subject, 
are = plural verb) 

We plan to start clipping on St. Valentine’s Day. (we = plural subject, 
plan = plural verb) 

How did I know that the subject-verb pairs were either singular or plural? I 
determined the number of subjects performing the action and then matched 
the verbs. 

Here are some steps to take in order to make sure that your subjects and 
verbs agree: 

1. Pop the question to find the verb. (See Chapter 2.) 

2. Pop the question to find the subject. (See Chapter 4.) 

3. Determine whether the subject is singular or plural. 

4. Match the appropriat^WrW^lr^f^F^^iRTto singular subject, plural 
verb to plural subject. 




136 



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Time isn't money, but in grammar, 
they're both singular 



Time and money are the same, at least in gram- 
mar. In grammar, you count them as one single 
quantity, not as separate units. Thus, 

Fifty minutes is not enough for a television 
news show about Lochness. 

A hundred dollars was a powerful tempta- 
tion to Analivia, and she decided to allow 
the giant computer company to use her 
latest equation. 



One exception to the rule occurs when you talk 
about money as a physical thing — pieces of 
paper or metal. For example. 

Fifty dollars are taped to the wall behind 
Lochness's cash register because he thinks 
that such a display is "classy." 

One hundred francs were dropped, one by 
one and with great ceremony, into the 
child's piggybank. 



Choosing Verbs for Tu/o Subjects 

Sentences with two subjects joined by and take a plural verb, even if each of 
the two subjects is singular. (Think of math: one + one = two. One subject + 
one subject = plural subject.) 

Here are some sample sentences with subjects joined by the word and: 

The lawnmower and the hedge clipper are their salvation. ( lawnmower + 
clipper = plural subject, are = plural verb) 

The ugly lawn gnome and the lovely plastic elf belong together, (gnome + 
elf= plural subject, belong = plural verb) 

Romance and lawn care do not mix well, (romance + lawn care = plural 
subject, do mix = plural verb) 

Subjects joined by or, like subjects joined by either/or, may take either a 
singular or a plural verb. See Chapter 21. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lubdub and his co-conspirator plan to steal the lawn ornament. 

B. Lubdub and his co-conspirator plans to steal the lawn ornament. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. The subject is Lubdub and his co<onspirator, a 

plural subject. The plural verb plan is needed. 

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Chapter .^IfcdustNiodb^bur Head: About Agreement 137 



Try one more. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lubdub and his co-conspirator have had no mercy for the gnome. 

B. Lubdub and his co-conspirator has had no mercy for the gnome. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. The subject is still plural (Lubdub and his 
co-conspirator) so it needs a plural verb. The verb in sentence A is have had, 
which is also plural. In sentence B the verb (has had) is singular. 



The Question of Questions 

Just to make subject-verb agreement even more complicated, English grammar 
shuffles a sentence around to form questions and often throws in a helping 
verb or two. (See Chapter 2 for more information on helping verbs.) Adding 
insult to injury, questions are formed differently in different tenses. In this sec- 
tion, I show you how to form singular and plural questions in each tense. 



Present tense questions 

Check out the italicized subjects and verbs in these questions: 

Do the holes from Lulu’s pierced eyebrows fill with water when it rains? 

( holes = plural subject, do fill = plural verb) 

Does the ring in Lulu’s navel rust when she showers? ( ring = singular sub- 
ject, does rust = singular verb) 

Do Ludwig and Ludmilla need a good divorce lawyer? ( Ludwig + Ludmilla = 
plural subject, do need = plural verb) 

Does Eggworthy like artichoke omelets? ( Eggworthy = singular subject, 
does like = singular verb) 

You’ve probably figured out that the verbs are formed by adding do or does 
to the main verb. Do matches all plurals as well as the singular subjects / and 
you. Does is for all other singular subjects. That’s the system for most pre- 
sent tense questions. (Questions formed with the verb to be don’t need do or 
does) When do or does is used to form a question, the main verb doesn’t 
change. So when checking subject-verb agreement in present-tense ques- 
tions, be sure to note the helping verb — do or does. 

Just for comparison, here are a couple of questions with the verb to be: 

Is Lola in style right nov^^caftey'^hgalarorabject, is = singular verb) 

Am I a good grammarian? (/ = singular subject, am = singular verb) 





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Are the grammarians analyzing that sentence? (grammarians = plural sub- 
ject, are analyzing = plural verb) 




Is Lochness spying again? (Lochness = singular subject, is spying = singular 
verb) 

Change this statement into a question: 

Ludmilla meets Ludwig’s parents today. 



Answer: Does Ludmilla meet Ludwig’s parents today? To form the question, 
add the helping verb does. 



Past tense questions 

Past tense questions make use of the helping verb did. I imagine you’ll cheer 
when you hear that did forms both singular and plural questions. Questions 
with the verb to be (always a maverick) don’t need helping verbs, but the 
order changes. Here are some examples of past tense questions: 



Did Felonia play the same song for eight hours? (Felonia = singular sub- 
ject, did play = singular past tense verb) 



Did the grammarians complain about that question? ( grammarians = 
plural subject, did complain = plural past tense verb) 

Was Lola on the Committee to Combat Body Piercing? ( Lola = singular 
subject, was = singular past tense verb) 

Were the villagers angry about the new tax? (villagers = plural subject, 
were = plural verb) 




Was I talking too fast? (I = singular subject, was talking = singular verb) 
Were the lions roaring ? (lions = plural subject, were roaring = plural verb) 
Change this statement into a question. 

Ludmilla and Ludwig had the invitations. 



Answer: Did Ludmilla and Ludwig have the invitations? To form the past 
tense question, add the helping verb did. 



Future tense questions 

Once again, this topic is a free pass when it comes to singular and plural 
questions. The future tenses already have helping verbs, so no additions are 
necessary. Here’s the best, part: The helping verbs are the same for both sin- 
gular and plural su^cts^Mla^filse'sample future tense questions: 




Chapter ll^ iifst Nad Your Head: About Agreement 139 



Will Cedric and Blathersby see that movie about the exploding doughnut? 

( Cedric + Blathersby = plural subject, will see = plural future tense verb) 

Will Lola ever see the error of her ways? ( Lola = singular subject, will 
see = plural future tense verb) 

Will Legghorn be screening his new movie tonight? ( Legghorn = singular 
subject, will be screening = plural future tense verb) 

Will both of you be ordering another dessert? ( both = plural subject, will 
be ordering = plural future tense verb) 

Negative Statements and 
Subject-Verb Agreement 

Some present-tense negative statements are also formed by adding do or 
does, along with the word not, to a main verb. Remember that does is always 
singular. The helping verb do may be paired with the singular subjects I and 
you. Do is also used with all plural subjects. Here are some examples: 

Ludwig does not drive a sports car because he wants to project a whole- 
some image. ( Ludwig = singular subject, does drive = singular present 
tense verb) 

The killer bees do not chase Lochness, because they are afraid of him. 
(bees = plural subject, do chase = plural present tense verb) 

1 do not want to learn anything else about verbs ever again. (/ = singular 
subject, do want = singular present tense verb) 

You do not dance on your elbows in this club! (You = singular or plural 
subject, do dance = singular or plural present tense verb.) 

One more joyous thought: To form past and future tense questions, you don’t 
need additional helping verbs, and the helping verbs are the same for both 
singular and plural. Don’t worry about these tenses! 

Change this statement into a negative (opposite). 

Legghorn gave me help for the grammar test. 

Answer: Legghorn did not give me help for the grammar test. You form the 
negative with the helping verb did. 

Questions and negative statements in many foreign languages are formed in a 
different way. In Spanish, for example, all you have to do is raise the tone of 
your voice or add question^ki^J^^ejjts to Indicate that you're asking 
a question. A Spanish-speaking questioner need only say the equivalent of 
“He sings?” or “He not sings.” In English, however, the helping verb is neces- 
sary for those statements. 







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The distractions: Prepositional Phrases 
and Other Irrelevant Words 



Subjects and their verbs are like nannies and babies on a stroll through the 
park; they always travel together. From time to time, a passerby leans into 
the carriage and makes funny faces or plays peek-a-boo. The passerby is a 
distraction, irrelevant to the nanny and, after a few moments of wriggling and 
cooing, to the baby as well. 

The sentence world has lots of distracting peek-a-boo players. These players 
show up, slip between a subject and its verb, and distract you from the 
important stuff. The best strategy is to ignore these distractions. Identify 
them and then cross them out (at least mentally) to get to the bare bones of 
the sentence — the subject-verb pair. 




The most common interrupters, but not the only ones, are prepositional 
phrases. A prepositional phrase contains a preposition (on, to, for, by, and so 
on) and an object of the preposition (a noun or pronoun). These phrases may 
contain some descriptive words as well. (For a full discussion of preposi- 
tional phrases, see Chapter 9.) 

In addition to prepositional phrases, the “distractions” may be clauses or 
participles. For more information on clauses and participles, see Chapter 24. 

In the following sentences, I added some camouflage. The interrupters (not 
all prepositional phrases) are italicized. 



The ugly lawn gnome with 10,000 eyes and only five toes loves the lovely 
plastic elf. (gnome = subject, loves = verb) 

In this sentence, gnome is the subject. Gnome is singular. If you pay attention 
to the prepositional phrase, you may incorrectly focus on eyes and toes as 
the subject — both plural words. 



The lovely plastic elf, fascinated with folktales, is pining after the ugly lawn 
gnome. (elf= subject, is pining = verb) 

By ignoring the distracting interrupter phrase in this sentence, you can easily 
pick out the subject-verb pair. 



The weeds, not the edge of the lawn, are a problem to this unhappy 
couple, (weeds = subject, are = verb) 

In this sentence, weeds is the subject. If you go for the interrupter, you may 
incorrectly match your verb to edge or lawn, both of which are singular. 



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Chapter lltrJusiMod Your Head: About Agreement 




Final answer: Ignore all distracting phrases and find the true subject-verb 
pair. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The boy in the first row, along with all the hedgehogs under his desk, is 
ignoring the teacher. 



B. The boy in the first row, along with all the hedgehogs under his desk, are 
ignoring the teacher. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. The subject is boy. The boy is ignoring. Along 
with all the hedgehogs under his desk is an interrupter (in this case, a preposi- 
tional phrase). 

Another: Which sentence is correct? 



A. The girl in the last row, but not the trolls standing on the coat rack, are 
firing spitballs at the teacher. 

B. The girl in the last row, but not the trolls standing on the coat rack, is 
firing spitballs at the teacher. 




Answer: Sentence B is correct. The subject is girl. The verb must therefore be 
singular (is firing). The interrupters (both prepositional phrases) are in the 
last row and but not the trolls standing on the coat rack. 

Sentences with unusual word order or with the words here and there often 
cause confusion. See Chapter 4 for tips on matching subjects and verbs in 
these situations. 



Can't We Alt Just Get Atony} Agreement 
With difficult Subjects 

Every family has a problem child, or at least a problem cousin. Every topic in 
English grammar has at least one problem child, including the topic of sub- 
ject-verb agreement. In this section, I take you through several scenarios, 
each featuring a difficult subject. 



Fit/e puzzling pronouns as subjects 

Earlier in this chapter I told you to ignore prepositional phrases. Now I must 
confess that this rule has well, five small exceptions. 




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Five pronouns — five little words that just have to stir up trouble — change 
from singular to plural because of the prepositional phrases that follow them. 
The five troublemaking pronouns are as follows: 

** any 
/> all 
i > most 
none 
v 0 some 




A good way to remember these five important words is with this nonsense 
sentence. (What? You say all the sentences in English Grammar For Dummies 
are nonsense sentences? Thanks for the compliment.) Anyway, remember 
these pronouns, if you like, with this sentence: 

Amy Aardvark makes nice salads. (Amy = any, Aardvark = all, makes = 
most, nice = none, salads = some) 



Here they are with some prepositional phrases and verbs. Notice how the 
prepositional phrase affects the verb number. 



Singular 


Plural 


any of the book is 


any of the magazines are 


all of the pie is 


all of the shoes are 


most of the city is 


most of the pencils are 


none of the pollution is 


none of the toenails are 


some of the speech is 


some of the politicians are 



See the pattern? For these five words, the prepositional phrase is the deter- 
mining factor. If the phrase refers to a plural idea, the verb is plural. If the 
phrase refers to a singular idea, the verb is singular. 

So remember Amy Aardvark makes nice salads, check the prepositional 
phrase, and determine whether the verb should be singular or plural. Easy, 
right? You got it! 



Here and there you find problems 

A variation on unusual word order is a sentence beginning with here or there. 
In the examples bel©w,vt4rtehtobgeia1sris?8rb pairs are italicized: 










Chapteiwlt:hJ«stNi)(tYour Head: About Agreement U3 



Here is the ugly lawn gnome with his new love, a ceramic deer. 

There are many problems in every lawn-ornament relationship. 

Here, for example, are a frog and a birdbath. 

There is no privacy in lawn-ornament romances. 

As you see, the words here and there aren’t italicized. These words are never 
subjects! The true subject in this type of sentence comes after the verb, not 
before. For more examples of here and there sentences, see Chapter 4. 



The Ones, the Things, and the Bodies 

The Ones, the Things, and the Bodies are not the names of families on your 
block; you won’t find the Ones, the Things, and the Bodies in the phone book 
(unless some folks in your town have really weird names). The Ones, the 
Things, and the Bodies are families of pronouns that delight in mischief- 
making. Here’s the family tree: 

The Ones: one, everyone, someone, anyone, no one 
The Things: everything, something, anything, nothing 
The Bodies: everybody, somebody, anybody, nobody 

These pronouns are always singular, even if they’re surrounded by preposi- 
tional phrases that express plurals. These pronouns must be matched with 
singular verbs. Take a look at these examples: 

So everybody is happy because no one has caused any trouble, and any- 
thing goes. 

Anyone in the pool of candidates for dogcatcher speaks better than Lulu. 

One of the million reasons why I hate you is your tendency to use bad 
grammar. 

Not one out of a million spies creates as much distraction as Lochness. 

You must also match the Ones, the Things, and the Bodies with singular pro- 
nouns. (See Chapter 10 for more information on pronoun agreement.) For 
now, just remember that the Ones, the Things, and the Bodies are singular all 
the time. 



Each and ei/ery mistake is painful 

Each and every are very power^' wor^^ey^e strong enough to change 
whatever follows them in the sentence — no matter what — into a singular 
idea. Sneak a peek at these examples: 




Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

www .watchtvsitcoms.com 

Each shoe and sock is in need of mending, but Ludwig refuses to pick up 
a needle and thread. 

Every dress and skirt in that store is on sale, and Lulu’s in a spending 
mood. 

Each of those Halloween pumpkins was fairly rotten by December, 
although Lola made pies out of them anyway. 

Every one of the atomic secrets has been eaten by Lochness in an attempt 
to avoid capture. 

Do these sentences look wrong to you? Each has some expression of a plural 
in it: two things (shoe and sock) in sentence one, another two things (dress 
and skirt) in sentence two, pumpkins in sentence three, and secrets in sentence 
four. Because the sentences are about groups, they call for plural verbs. Right? 

Wrong. The logic is that when each or every is placed in front of a group, you 
take the items in the group one by one — one at a time. In the first sample 
sentence, the subject consists of one shoe, one sock, another shoe, another 
sock, and so on. Therefore, the sentence needs a singular verb to match the 
singular subject. So in the sample sentences, singular verbs match with the 
subjects that are made singular by the magic words, each and every: 

Each shoe and sock is 
Every dress and skirt is 
Each of those Halloween pumpkins was 
Every one of the atomic secrets has been eaten 

Remember: Each mistaken subject and verb is a problem, and every grammar 
rule and example is important. 

1 Want to be alone : Either and 
neither Without their partners 

Either often hangs out with its partner or, just as neither spends a lot of time 
with nor. (For information on matching verbs to subjects in sentences with 
either/or and neither/nor pairs, see Chapter 21.) But each of these words does 
a Garbo from time to time, saying, “I want to be alone.” When they’re alone, 
either and neither are always singular, even if you insert a huge group (or just 
a group of two) between them and their verbs. Hence 

Either of the two armies is strong enough to take over the entire planet. 

Neither of the football teams has shown any willingness to accept Lola as 
quarterback, www.watchtvsitcoms.com 





Chaffterltt Jast'Wocl Your Head: About Agreement U5 



Either of the dinosaur herds was capable of trampling a huge forest of 
ferns. 

Neither of the lawyers does anything without billing me. 

Because the sample sentences are about armies, teams, herds, and lawyers, 
you may be tempted to choose plural verbs. Resist the temptation! No matter 
what the sentence says, if the subject is either or neither, singular is the cor- 
rect way to go. Also, any pronouns that refer to either or neither must also be 
singular. (See Chapter 10 for more information on pronoun usage.) Take a 
look at these examples: 

WRONG: Either of the television stars are going to be fired because of their 
connection with Blathersby. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: Either is singular, so it’s mismatched with the plurals 
are going (verb) and their (pronoun). 

RIGHT: Either of the television stars is going to be fired because of his 
connection with Blathersby. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: Now everything is singular: either, is going, his. 

Here are a few more examples: 

WRONG: Neither of the candidates are going to agree to the peace terms. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: Neither is singular and may not be matched with a 
plural verb (are going). 

RIGHT: Neither of the candidates is going to agree to the peace terms. 

WHY IT IS RIGHT: Both are now singular: neither and is going match. 

Final answer: either and neither, without their partners or and nor, always 
indicate singular subjects and always take singular verbs. 

Politics, statistics, and other 
irregular subjects 

Besides dirty tricks and spin masters, the problem with politics is number. 
Specifically, is the word politics singular or plural? Surprise! Politics is singular 
and you must match it with a singular verb. Here’s an example: 

Politics is a dirty sport, very much suited to Ludwig’s view of the world. 

Politics (singular) is paired with is (singular). 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

And while I’m at it, what about mathematics, news, economics, measles, 
mumps, and analysis? 





Part II: Avoiding Common Errors 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 



These nouns are all singular as well, even though they end with the letter s. 
Thus, these nouns are paired with singular verbs: 

Ratrug thinks that mathematics is overrated. He’d like to see the subject 
dropped from the school curriculum. 

The news about the doughnut is not encouraging. 

“ Economics is my thing,” commented Cedric as he stuffed money into his 
pockets. 

“Do you think that measles is a serious disease?” asked Eggworthy as he 
bought a case of skin lotion. “No, mumps is a lot worse,” replied 
Murgatroyd, who was extracting another ice pack from the freezer. 

“Your troubles are all in your mind,” said Lola. “ Analysis is the answer.” 

Another word — statistics — may be either singular or plural. If you’re talking 
about numbers, you may have two statistics. For example: Statistics show that 
grammar knowledge is declining. (You may also have one statistic when you’re 
using the word to refer to a number: I don’t want to become a highway-fatality 
statistic .) If you’re talking about a course or a field of study, statistics is always 
singular, as in my study of statistics. In my school, statistics is a difficult course. 




The English language also has words that are always plural. Here are a few of 
them: pants, trousers, and scissors. (You can’t put on a pant or a trouser, and 
you can’t cut with a scissor .) Other common plural-only words are credentials, 
acoustics, earnings, headquarters, and ceramics. 



When in doubt, check your dictionary and remember to match singular 
nouns with singular verbs and plural nouns with plural verbs. 



www.watchtvsitcoms.com 





No Garage, but 
Plenty of 
Mechanics 



The 5 th Wave By Rich Tennant 




11 It' 5 from the publisher. It says/Peav 
Mr. Shakespeare , Your current play is 
Qooder than tjaurvalaafe ithwt. cStil 1 not 
Sh V>est as vie think you're capable o£.'" 




www.watchtvsitcoms.com 



In this part 

MJassed any construction sites lately? If so, you’ve 
V probably noticed giant piles of lumber, steel, or 
bricks — all very useful and very noticeable parts of the 
new building. Off to the side, you’ve probably seen some 
of the little things that also make the building possible — 
the nails, the nuts, the bolts. 

In this part, I explain the nails, nuts, and bolts of writing: 
apostrophes, quotation marks, and other punctuation, as 
well as the rules for capitalization. By the time you finish 
reading this part, you’ll understand why those little things — 
what English teachers call mechanics — are an essential part 
of the package that carries your meaning to the reader. 



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www.watchtvsitcoms.com 



Chapter 12 

Punctuation Law That Should Be 
Repealed: Apostrophes 

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••a: 

In This Chapter 

Showing ownership with apostrophes 
Shortening words and phrases with apostrophes 
Avoiding common errors with apostrophes 
Placing apostrophes with numbers and symbols 



#t happens every time I take a walk. I’m strolling along, thinking all kinds of 
^ perfectly grammatical thoughts, when an awning or a window sign catches 
my eye. 

Bagel’s Sold Here 

Smiths Furniture — the Best Deals in Town! 

I hear a thud as the apostrophe rule bites the dust yet again. Apostrophes are 
those little curved marks you see hanging from certain letters — as in the 
bagels sign example. Why do those signs upset me? Because in both signs, 
the apostrophe (or lack thereof) is a problem. The signs should read: 

Bagels Sold Here 

Smith’s Furniture — the Best Deals in Town! 

Why don’t they? I don’t know. I do know that even very well educated people 
throw those little squiggles where they don’t belong and leave them out 
where they’re needed. So I’m in favor of a change: a repeal of the apostrophe 
rule. I think we should wipe it off the books. Pry the apostrophe key off com- 
puter keyboards. Erase apostrophe from the collective mind of English teach- 
ers. Done, over, finito. 

Until that happy day when apostrophes disappear, you’ll have to learn the 
rules. In this chapter, I expl$^%V^t^^^f)b^ophes to show ownership, 
how to shorten words with apostrophes, and how to form some plurals. 




150 P art No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

** www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

The Pen of My Aunt or My Aunt's Pen ) 
Using Apostrophes to Show Possession 

Most other languages are smarter than English. To show possession in 
French, for example, you say 

the pen of my aunt 
the little letters of the lovers 
the fine wines of that corner bar 

and so on. You can say the same thing in English too, but English has added 
another option, the apostrophe. Take a look at these same phrases — with 
the same meaning — using apostrophes: 

my aunt’s pen 
the lovers’ little letters 
that corner bar’s fine wines 

All of these phrases include nouns that express ownership. I like to think of 
the apostrophe as a little hand, holding on to an s to indicate ownership or 
possession. In these examples, you notice that the apostrophe is used to 
show that a singular noun owns something ( aunt’s pen; bar’s fine wines). 

You also see a phrase where the apostrophe indicates that plural nouns 
own something (lovers’ little letters). 



Ownership (or singles 

No, I’m not talking about the ownership of real estate or the singles who sit in 
bars asking, “What’s your sign?” or “Come here often?” I’m talking about using 
apostrophes to show ownership with singular nouns. Here’s the bottom line: 
To show possession by one owner, add an apostrophe and the letter s to the 
owner: 

the dragon ’s burnt tooth (the burnt tooth belongs to the dragon) 

Lulu’s pierced tooth (the pierced tooth belongs to Lulu) 

Murgatroyd’s gold-filled tooth (the gold-filled tooth belongs to 
Murgatroyd) 

Another way to think about this rule is to see whether the word of expresses 
what you’re trying to say. With the of method, you note 
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Chapter 12: Punctuatioi^lavrTtl^t<Sbo«M Be Repealed: Apostrophes 



the sharp tooth o/The crocodile = the crocodile’s sharp tooth 

the peanut-stained tooth of the elephant = the elephant’s peanut-stained 
tooth 

and so on. 

Sometimes, no clear owner seems present in the phrase. Such a situation 
arises mostly when you’re talking about time. If you can insert of into the sen- 
tence, you may need an apostrophe. To give you an idea of how to run the “of 
test,” here are some phrases that express time: 

one week’s tooth cleaning = one week of tooth cleaning 
a year’s dental care = one year of dental care 

Here’s the bottom line: When you’re talking about time, give your sentence 
the “of test.” If it passes, insert an apostrophe. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lulu told Lola that Lochness needs a years work on his gum disease. 

B. Lulu told Lola that Lochness needs a year’s work on his gum disease. 

Answer. Sentence B is correct because Lochness needs a year of work on his 
mouth. (Actually, he needs false teeth and maybe a nose job, but the year’s 
gum work is a start.) 

Because Bill doesn’t outn everything: 

Plural possess iVes 

You’d be finished figuring out apostrophes now if everything belonged to only 
one owner. Bill Gates is close, but even he hasn’t taken over everything yet. 
You still need to deal with plural owners. The plurals of most English nouns — 
anything greater than one — already end with the letter s. To show ownership, 
all you do is add an apostrophe after the s. Take a look at these examples: 

ten gerbils’ tiny teeth (the tiny teeth belong to ten gerbils) 

many dinosaurs ’ petrified teeth (the petrified teeth belong to a herd of 
dinosaurs) 

a thousand sword swallowers’ sliced teeth (the sliced teeth belong to a 
thousand sword swallowers) 



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152 



Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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The owl rule: Who's, whose 



Whose shows ownership. It seldom causes 
any problems, except when it's confused with 
another word: who's. Who's is a contraction that 
is short for who is. In other words 

The boy whose hat was burning was last 
seen running down the street screaming, 
" Who's in charge of fire fighting in this 
town?" 

and 



Whose box of firecrackers is on the radia- 
tor? Who's going to tell Eggworthy that his 
living room looks like the Fourth of July? 

Here are more correct examples for your 

consideration: 

u* Whose review will Legghorn read first? 

u* Who 's going to tell Legghorn that his play is 
awful? 




The obtest works for plurals too. If you can rephrase the expression using the 
word of, you may need an apostrophe. Remember to add the apostrophe 
after the letter s. 

three days’ construction work on Legghorn ’s false teeth = three days of 
construction work 




sixteen years’ neglect on the part of Lulu’s dentist = sixteen years of neglect 
two centuries ’ pain of rotten teeth = two centuries of pain 

Which is correct? 

A. Dentist Roger has only one goal in life: to clean the Yankee’s teeth. 

B. Dentist Roger has only one goal in life: to clean the Yankees’ teeth. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct if you’re talking about one player. Sentence B is 
correct if you’re talking about 24 sets of teeth, or all the choppers on the team. 

Try another. Which sentence is correct? 

A. The Halloween decorations are decaying, especially the pumpkins teeth. 
Cedric carved all ten jack-o-lanterns, and he can’t bear to throw them 
away. 

B. The Halloween decorations are decaying, especially the pumpkins’ teeth. 
Cedric carved all ten jack-o-lanterns, and he can’t bear to throw them 
away. 

C. The Halloween decorations are decaying, especially the pumpkin’s teeth. 
Cedric carved^^^^-^-^tg^s , and he can’t bear to throw them 
away. 





Chapter 12: PunctuatioiFLavi/cThalpStieiriil Be Repealed: Apostrophes 153 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. The context of the sentence (all ten jack-o- 
lanterns ) makes clear the fact that more than one pumpkin is rotting away. In 
sentence B, pumpkins ’ expresses a plural possessive. In sentence A, pumpkins 
has no apostrophe, though it clearly shows possession. In sentence C, the 
apostrophe is placed before the s, showing a single pumpkin. 

Irregular pturat possessive s 

In many of my examples in this chapter, I use the word “teeth.” (You probably 
will hear chomping in your sleep.) Hang on for a few more. First, look at the 
word teeth. It is plural, but teeth doesn’t end with the letter s. In other words, 
teeth is an irregular plural. To show ownership for an irregular plural, add an 
apostrophe and then the letter s (teeth’s). Check out these examples: 

teeth’s cavities (The cavities belong to the teeth.) 

children’s erupting teeth (The erupting teeth belong to the children.) 

the three blind mice’s imaginary teeth (The imaginary teeth belong to the 
three blind mice.) 

the women ’s lipstick-stained teeth (The lipstick-stained teeth belong to 
the women.) 

the mice ’s cheesy teeth (The cheesy teeth belong to the mice.) 

geese ’s missing teeth (No teeth belong to the geese, because as of course 
you know, birds have beaks instead.) 



Compound plural possessiVes 

What happens when two single people own something? They go to court and 
fight it out, that’s what happens! But forget lawsuits. I’m talking about gram- 
mar. The grammatical answer is one or two apostrophes, depending upon the 
type of ownership. If two people own something together, as a couple, use 
only one apostrophe. 

George and Martha Washington ’s home (The home belongs to the two of 
them.) 

Hillary and Bill Clinton ’s daughter (Chelsea claims both of them as her 
parents.) 

Ludwig and Ludmilla’s wedding (The wedding was for both the blushing 
groom and the frightful bride.) 

Lulu and Lola’s new set of nose rings (The set was too expensive for 
either one alone, so Lulu and Lola each paid half and agreed to an every- 
other-week wearing schedule.) 

Lochness and the superspy’s secret (Lochness told it to the superspy, 
so now they’re sharin^the se£|^t Sj ^hm s h c concerns doughnuts and 
explosives.) 




Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

If two people own things separately, as individuals, use two apostrophes: 

George ’s and Martha ’s teeth (He has his set of teeth — false, by the way — 
and she has her own set.) 

Lulu’s and Legghorn’s new shoes. (She wears size 2, and he wears size 12. 
Hers are lizard skin with four-inch heels. His are plastic with five-inch 
heels. They definitely own separate pairs.) 

Eggworthy 's and Ratrug’s attitudes towards dieting. (Eggworthy doesn’t 
know and doesn’t care to know his cholesterol count. Ratrug carries 
around a nutrition chart and a scale and weighs every scrap of food 
he eats.) 

Lester’s and Archie’s sleeping habits (You don’t want to know. I’ll just say 
that Lester sleeps all night, and Archie sleeps all day.) 

Cedric’s and Lola’s fingernails. (He has his; she has her own; both sets are 
polished and quite long.) 

Not every plural noun has an apostrophe 

Speaking of plurals: Remember that an apostrophe shows ownership. Don’t 
use an apostrophe when you have a plural that is not expressing ownership. 
Here are some examples: 

RIGHT: Bagels stick to your teeth. 

WRONG: Bagel’s stick to your teeth. 

ALSO WRONG: Bagels’ stick to your teeth. 

Look at another set: 

RIGHT: The gnus gnashed their teeth when they heard the news. 

WRONG: The gnus’ gnashed their teeth when they heard the news. 

ALSO WRONG: The gnu’s gnashed their teeth when they heard the news. 

To sum up the rule on plurals and apostrophes: If the plural noun is not showing 
ownership, don ’t use an apostrophe. If the plural noun shows ownership, do add 
an apostrophe after the s (for regular plurals). For irregular plurals showing 
ownership, add ’s. 



Possession With Proper Nouns 

Companies, stores, and organizations also own things, so these proper 
nouns — singular or plural — also get apostrophes. Put the apostrophe at 
the end of the narneww.watchtvsitcoms.com 





Chapter 12: PunctuationAliawtThatcSheirld Be Repealed: Apostrophes 



Lord & Taylor’s finest shoes 
Microsoft’s finest operating system 
Shearson Lehmann ’s finest money 
McGillicuddy, Pinch, and Cinch ’s finest lawsuit 
Grammar, Inc. ’s finest apostrophe rule 




Special note: Some stores have apostrophes in their names, even without a 
sense of possession. For example, Bloomingdale’s is a department store. In 
the preceding sentence, Bloomingdale’s is written with an apostrophe, but 
there’s no noun after the store name. Nevertheless, everyone calls the store 
Bloomingdale’s, including the store itself. Such names are probably shortened 
versions of a longer name (perhaps Bloomingdale’s Department Store'). 

Place apostrophes where they’re needed in this paragraph. 

Ratrug went to Macys Department Store to buy a suit for Lolas party. His 
shopping list also included a heart for the Valentines Day dinner and a 
card for his brothers next anniversary. Ratrugs shopping spree was suc- 
cessful, in spite of Lulus and Lolas attempts to puncture his tires. 



Answer: Ratrug went to Macy’s Department Store to buy a suit for Lola’s party. 
His shopping list also included a heart for the Valentine ’s Day dinner and a card 
for his brother’s next anniversary. Ratrug’s shopping spree was successful, in 
spite of Lulu’s and Lola’s attempts to puncture his tires. (Note: Lulu and Lola 
made separate stabs at the tires.) 



Ownership utith Hyphenated Words 

Other special cases of possession involve compound words — son-in-law, 
mother-of-pearl, and all the other words with hyphens (those little horizontal 
lines). The rule is simple: Put the apostrophe at the end of the word. Never 
put an apostrophe inside a word. Here are some examples of singular com- 
pound nouns: 

the secretary-treasurer’s report on teeth (The report belongs to the 
secretary-treasurer.) 

the dogcatcher-in<hief’s canine teeth (The canine teeth belong to the 
dogcatcher-in-chief.) 

my mother-in-law’s elderly teeth (The elderly teeth belong to my mother- 
in-law. Hi, Mom!) 

The same rule applies to plW^ ^Ste^diSSRThd^ffls that are hyphenated. Take a 
look at these examples: 




Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

the doctors-of-philosophy’s study lounge (the study lounge is owned by all 
the doctors-of philosophy) 

my fathers-in-law ’s wedding present (the wedding present was from both 
fathers-in-law) 



Possessit/e Nouns That End in S 

Singular nouns that end in s present special problems. Let me explain: My last 
name is Woods. My name is singular, because I am only one person. When 
students talk about me, they may say, 

Ms. Woods’s grammar lessons can’t be beat. 



or 



Ms. Woods’ grammar lessons can’t be beat. 

(Okay, they say a lot of other things too, but this is a positive, family-friendly 
book. I’ll leave the other comments out.) 




Both of the sentences about me and my grammar lessons (sounds like an old 
song: “Me and my grammar lessons / down in the good old school / where we 
learned apostrophes / so we wouldn’t drool”) are correct. Why are there two 
options — Ms. Woods’s and Ms. Woods’? The answer has to do with sound. If 
you say the first sentence above, by the time you get to the word grammar 
you’re hissing and spitting all over your listener. Not a good idea. The second 
sentence sounds better. So the grammar police have given in on this one. If 
the name of a singular owner ends in the letter s, you may add only an apos- 
trophe, not an apostrophe and another s. But if you like hissing and spitting, 
feel free to add an apostrophe and an s. Both versions are acceptable. Just 
don’t put an apostrophe in the middle of someone’s name. 



RIGHT: Ms. Woods’s hysterically funny jokes 




ALSO RIGHT: Ms. Woods’ hysterically funny jokes 
WRONG: Ms. Wood’s hysterically funny jokes. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The walrus’ tusk gleamed because the walrus brushed it for ten minutes 
after every meal. 



B. The walrus’s tusk gleamed because the walrus brushed it for ten min- 
utes after every meal. 



Answer: Both are correct. Sentence B uses up a little more saliva, but it fol- 
lows the rule. Sent^W^A^MfeTfi^RSM rule, but nowadays that rule is 
broken. (Yes, it was a trick question. You know how teachers are.) 




Chapter 12: Punctuatioiivia^itThliaiShfiuldiBe Repealed: Apostrophes 157 



Try another set. Which sentence is correct? 

A. My whole family got together for Thanksgiving. The Woods’ are a large 
group. 

B. My whole family got together for Thanksgiving. The Woodses are a large 
group. 

Answer: Another trick question. Sentence B is correct because Woodses is a 
plural, not a possessive. In sentence A, the apostrophe is incorrect because 
plurals shouldn’t have apostrophes unless they express ownership. 

Common Apostrophe Errors 
With Pronouns 

English also supplies pronouns — words that take the place of a noun — for 
ownership. Some possessive pronouns are my, your, his, her, its, our, and 
their. No possessive pronoun ever has an apostrophe. A few examples of pos- 
sessive pronouns in action: 

your completely unruly child — not your’ completely unruly child (also 
wrong: that completely unruly child of yours’) 

our extremely well-behaved youngster — not our’ extremely well-behaved 
youngster (also wrong: the extremely well-behaved youngster of ours’) 

their tendency to fight — not their’ tendency to fight (also wrong: the ten- 
dency of theirs’ not to fight) 

his call to the police — not his’ call to the police 

her reading of the suspect’s rights — not her’ reading of the suspect’s 
rights (also wrong: her’s') 

its unreasonable verdict — not its’ unreasonable verdict 
Which sentence is correct? 

A. Ratrug stole Cedric’s mouthwash because of their’ ancient feud. 

B. Ratrug stole Cedric’s mouthwash because of their ancient feud. 

C. Ratrug stole Cedrics mouthwash because of their ancient feud. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. In sentence A, the apostrophe is needed in 
Cedric’s because Cedric owns the mouthwash. However, their should not have 
an apostrophe because no possessive pronoun ever has an apostrophe. In 
sentence C, their is written lacks the apostrophe. 





158 Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

Just one more. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Eggworthy claims that a weeks mouthwash is not worth fighting over 
and has pledged his support to Ratrug. 

B. Eggworthy claims that a week’s mouthwash is not worth fighting over 
and has pledged his’ support to Ratrug. 

C. Eggworthy claims that a week’s mouthwash is not worth fighting over 
and has pledged his support to Ratrug. 

Answer: Sentence C is correct. In sentence A, a weeks needs an apostrophe 
because the phrase means a week of. In sentence B, his ’shouldn’t have an 
apostrophe because (say it aloud — bellow it) no possessive pronoun ever 
has an apostrophe. 

For more information on possessive pronouns, see Chapter 10. 

Shortened Words (or Busy 
People: Contractions 

Are you in a hurry? Probably. So like just about everyone in our society, you 
probably use contractions when you speak. A contraction shortens a word by 
removing one letter or more and substituting an apostrophe in the same 
spot. For example, chop wi out of / will, throw in an apostrophe, and you 
have I’ll. The resulting word is shorter and faster to say, with only one sylla- 
ble (sound) instead of two. 

Take a look at Table 12-1 for a list of common contractions. Notice that a 
couple of contractions are irregular. (Won’t, for example, is short for will not.) 



Table 12-1 




Contractions 




Phrase 


Contraction 


Phrase 


Contraction 


are not 


aren't 


she is 


she's 


cannot 


can't 


that is 


that's 


could not 


couldn't 


they are 


they're 


do not 


don't 


they will 


they'll 


does not 


doesn't 


they would 


they'd 


did not 


didn't 


we are 


we're 


he will 


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he'll 


i 

we will 


we'll 












Chapter 12: Punctuatiorriawtfltot^SlTSBtd Be Repealed: Apostrophes 159 



Phrase 


Contraction 


Phrase 


Contraction 


he would 


he'd 


we would 


we'd 


he is 


he's 


we have 


we've 


is not 


isn't 


what is 


what's 


it is 


it's 


who is 


who's 


1 am 


I'm 


will not 


won't 


1 will 


I'll 


would not 


wouldn't 


1 would 


I'd 


you are 


you're 


1 have 


I've 


you have 


you've 


she will 


she'll 


you will 


you'll 


she would 


she'd 


you would 


you'd 



If you’d like to make a contraction that isn’t in Table 12-1, check your dictio- 
nary to make sure it’s legal! 



Common contraction mistakes 

If you’ve gone to the mall — any mall — chances are you’ve seen a sign like this: 
Doughnuts ’N Coffee 



or 



Skirts ’N Shirts 



or 



Broken Grammar Rules 

Okay, I doubt you’ve seen the last one, at least as a sign, but you’ve seen ’n as 
a contraction of and. And therefore, you’ve witnessed broken grammar rules 
at the mall. I know I’m fighting a losing battle here, and I know I should be 
worried about much more important issues, like the economy and the envi- 
ronment. Even so, I also care about the grammatical environment, and thus 
I make a plea to the store owners and sign painters of the English-speaking 
world. Please don’t put ’n in anything. It’s a grunt, not a word. Thank you. 



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Your right to use apostrophes 



You're in trouble if your apostrophes are in the 
wrong place, especially when you're writing in 
the second person. {The second person is the 
form that uses you, your, yours, both singular 
and plural.) You're means you are. Tour shows 
possession. These two words are not inter- 
changeable. Some examples: 

“You're not going to eat that rotten pump- 
kin," declared Ratrug. (You are not going to 
eat.) 



“Your refusal to eat the pumpkin means that 
you will be given mystery meat instead," 
commented Cedric. (The refusal comes 
from you so you need a possessive word.) 

“You're going to wear that pumpkin if you 
threaten me," said Lola. (You are going to 
wear.) 

"I'm not afraid of your threats!" stated 
Legghorn. (The threats come from you so 
you need a possessive word.) 




Woulda, coulda, shoulda. These three “verbs” are potholes on the road to 
better grammar. Why? Because they don’t exist. Here’s the recipe for a gram- 
matical felony. Start with three real verb phrases: 



would have 



could have 
should have 



And turn them into contractions: 



would’ve 

could’ve 

should’ve 



Now turn them back into words. But don’t turn them back into the words 
they actually represent. Instead, let your ears be your guide. (It helps if you 
have a lot of wax in your ears because the sounds don’t quite match.) Now 
you say the following: 

would of 
could of 
should of 



These three phrases are never correct. Don’t use them! Take a look at these 
examples: 



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Chapter 12: PunctuatioiiAlaw^hatcSheidd Be Repealed: Apostrophes 



WRONG: If Lochness had asked me to join the spy ring, I would of said, 
“No way.” 

RIGHT: If Lochness had asked me to join the spy ring, I would have said, 
“No way.” 

ALSO RIGHT: If Lochness had asked me to join the spy ring, I would’ve 
said, “No way.” 

Here’s another set: 

WRONG: In recruiting for the spy ring, Lochness could of been more 
polite. 

RIGHT: In recruiting for the spy ring, Lochness could have been more 
polite. 

ALSO RIGHT: In recruiting for the spy ring, Lochness could’ve been more 
polite. 

Note one last group of examples: 

WRONG: When I heard about the spy ring, I should of told the Central 
Intelligence Agency. 

RIGHT: When I heard about the spy ring, I should have told the Central 
Intelligence Agency. 

ALSO RIGHT: When I heard about the spy ring, I should’ve told the 
Central Intelligence Agency. 

Which is correct? 

A. Jane wouldnt go to the dentist even though she needed a new tooth. 

B. Jane wouldn’t go to the dentist, even though she needed a new tooth. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. Wouldn’t is short for would not. 

The questions never stop, do they? Try again. Which is correct? 

A. The new tooth would of been fine, but she’ll never learn. 

B. The new tooth would’ve been fine, but she’ll never learn. 

C. The new tooth wouldve been fine, but she’ll never learn. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. Sentence A contains an incorrect verb form, 
would of. The verb in sentence C lacks an apostrophe (wouldve ). 



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162 Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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Contractions you ne'er use except in poetry 

Poets often create unusual contractions when they need a certain number of 
syllables in a line. In real life, no one ever says 

o’er (over) o’ (of) ’gainst (against) 

ne’er (never) wi’ (with) ta’en (taken) 

e’en (evening) ’twas (it was) ow’st (owest) 

and so forth. But in poems, these and other unusual contractions aren’t 
uncommon. Poets writing in a strict format — the classic ten syllables a line, 
every other syllable stressed, sonnet form, for example — throw in an apos- 
trophe when they need to drop one syllable from the line. (The reverse is 
also true. To add an extra syllable, poets place an accent mark above a nor- 
mally silent letter — marked, for example, is pronounced mark-ed .) They’re 
cheating, but hey, poetry is tough to write. 

Using Apostrophes urith 
Symbols and Numbers 

This rule is easy. To make the plural of a numeral or a symbol, you may add 
an apostrophe and then the letter s. Take a look at some examples: 

Lulu’s mother blushes whenever her daughter mentions the 1960's. The 
computer that Lochness rewired prints only #’s. 

When Eggworthy writes O’s, they have a curious oval shape. 

Cedric thinks that <£’s are acceptable in formal writing! (They aren’t.) 

This rule may be on the way out. Recently, many publishers are simplifying 
their lives by adding only the letter s. Here are some examples: 

Lola’s mother turns pale when anyone mentions the 1950s. 

Lochness writes #s on all his stolen microfilm. 

Eggworthy’s Os seem fragile. 

Cedric’s teacher deducted points for all his &s. 

So far, civilization hasn’t crumbled from the shock. Stay tuned! For now, use 
both the apostrophe and the s when you really, really, really need to impress 
someone with your grammatical knowledge. 




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Chapter 13 

Quotations: More Rules Than the 
Internal Revenue Service 



In This Chapter 

® Understanding the difference between quoting directly and reporting someone’s 
words generally 

a* Punctuating quotations 

Using quotation marks for slang and unusual words 
Knowing when to put titles in quotation marks 



a My hen 1 correct the quotation marks in students’ papers, I find that stu- 
WW dents are often puzzled. “Why did you move that period?” they ask. 
“Why did you change the single quotation marks to doubles? Do I really need 
a capital letter there?” They have a lot of questions for me (including that old 
favorite: “Why do we have to know this stuff?”). I always have one for them 
too (No, I don’t ask, “Do you know the way to detention?” I’m much nicer than 
that.) I do ask them what rule they were following when they placed the quota- 
tion marks, the capital letters, the periods, and the commas. Surprisingly, they 
always have an answer. Then they quote a rule to me that justifies what they 
wrote. Unfortunately, the rules they quote don’t exist; they’re myths, not rules. 
Even more unfortunately, English grammar governs the use of quotation marks 
with a huge number of rules — more than our beloved governmental agency, 
the Internal Revenue Service. 



In this chapter, I explain how to quote correctly and how to get the details 
right, including punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing, and all the other 
fun stuff. No myths here — just the facts. 



And 1 Quote 

A quotation is a written re^i^^^^^lse’s words — just one word 
or a whole statement or passage. You see quotations in almost all writing: 
newspapers, magazines, novels, essays, letters, and so on. To get an idea how 
to identify a quotation, take a look at the following story: 




m Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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One day, while Felonia was on her way to a music lesson, she gazed through 
a shop window at a gleaming grand piano. Her heart beating wildly at the 
thought of playing such a marvel, she neglected to look up when everyone 
around her began to shout. Seconds later, another piano — an upright, not a 
grand — came whizzing through the air. One of the movers had taken a bite 
of his tuna fish sandwich, allowing the piano to break loose from the ropes 
hoisting it to the third floor. The piano landed a mere inch away from Felonia. 
What did Felonia say? 

She said that she was relieved. 

This sentence tells you about Felonia and her feelings, but it doesn’t give her 
exact words. It’s a report of someone’s ideas, but not a record of the words 
actually spoken or written. You can write exactly the same sentence if you 
heard Felonia say, “Thank God it missed me. My knees are shaking! I could 
have been killed.” 

You can also write the same sentence if you heard Felonia say, “Tomorrow’s 
the big concert! What if it had hit me! I’m so glad it missed. Now I can play 
and become a star. Recording companies will come to me on bended knee, 
and my name will be all over the Internet. I’ll even be a guest on Letterman.” 

And of course, you can write the same sentence if you heard Felonia say, “I 
am relieved.” 

As an observer, you can also record Felonia’s reaction by writing: 

She said that she was “relieved.” 

This account of Felonia’s reaction is a little more exact. Some of the sentence 
is general, but the reader knows that Felonia actually said the word “relieved” 
because it’s in quotation marks. The quotation marks are signs for the reader; 
they mean that the material inside the marks is exactly what was said. 

Felonia said, “I am so relieved that I could cry.” 

“I am so relieved that I could cry,” Felonia said. 

These two sentences quote Felonia. The words enclosed by quotation marks 
are exactly what Felonia said. The only thing added is a speaker tag — an 
identifying phrase that tells you who said the words (in this case, Felonia). 
You can place the speaker tag in the beginning of the sentence or at the end. 
(It can also land in the middle, but I talk about that later in this chapter.) The 
quotation marks enclose the words that were said or written. 

Which sentences are quotations? Which sentences are general reports of 
what was said? 

A. Blathersby doW^TI^W^fi^^fifTlhe conductor of the school orchestra, 
according to Lulu. 





Chapter 13: Quotations: RtoeaRufescTfoafotiie Internal Revenue Service 165 



B. Besides placing exploding cushions on the conductor’s chair, Blathersby 
has been heard talking about the conductor’s “sentimental” choices of 
music for the next concert. 

C. “I refuse to play anything that was composed before the twenty-first cen- 
tury,” declared Blathersby. 

Answer: Sentence A is a general report with none of Blathersby’s exact 
words. Sentence B tells the reader that Blathersby said the word “sentimen- 
tal.” Sentence C is a quotation. 



Punctuating Quotations 

Here’s a math problem for you: 

Quotation + Punctuation = ? 

Answer: A million dumb rules. Yes, I’m brave in calling the rules “dumb,” even 
though I risk being expelled from the grammarians’ union. In general, the rules 
for quotations are simply customs. Put a period inside, put a period outside — 
what difference does it make to your reader? Not much. But the illogical rules 
are just as important as the logical ones. You need to follow them, whether 
these rules make sense or not. So here goes: the earth-shattering topic of 
punctuating quotations. 



Quotations utith speaker tags 

DUMB RULE 1: When the speaker tag comes first, put a comma after the 
speaker tag. The period at the end of the sentence goes inside the quotation 
marks. 

The gang remarked, “Lola’s candidate is a sure bet.” 

Ludwig added, “I am an absolute ruler and I like Lola’s candidate.” 

Lola replied, “Don’t get personal.” 

DUMB RULE 2: When the speaker tag comes last, put a comma inside the quo- 
tation marks and a period at the end of the sentence. 

“Lola’s candidate isn’t a sure bet now,” the gang continued. 

“I declare war,” screamed Lola. 

“I have secret information about the election,” said Lochness. 

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Now you know the first two (of far too many) quotation rules. Keep in mind 
that it doesn’t matter where you put the speaker tag as long as you punctuate 
the sentence correctly. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Alonzo muttered, “I don’t want to practice the piano”. 



B. Alonzo muttered, “I don’t want to practice the piano.” 



Answer: Sentence B is correct, because the period is inside the quotation 
marks. 



Here’s another pair. Which sentence is correct? 

A. “The equation that Agwamp wrote on the board is incorrect,” trilled 
Analivia. 

B. “The equation that Agwamp wrote on the board is incorrect”, trilled 
Analivia. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct, because the comma is inside the quotation 
marks. 



HoW rude! Punctuating interrupted quotations With speaker tags 

Sometimes a speaker tag lands in the middle of a sentence. To give you an 
example of this sort of placement, I revisit Felonia. Her saga continues with 
a visit to her lawyer. 

“I think I’ll sue,” Felonia explained, “for emotional distress.” 

“You can’t imagine,” she added, “the feelings I felt.” 

“The brush of the piano against my nose,” she sighed, “will be with me 
forever.” 

“The scent of tuna,” she continued, “brings it all back.” 

“I can’t go to the cafeteria,” she concluded, “without suffering post-piano 
stress syndrome.” 

In each of these sample sentences, the speaker tag is in the middle of the 
quotation; it interrupts the quotation. Time for some more dumb rules for the 
punctuation of this sort of interrupted quotation. 

DUMB RULE 3: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the comma is 
inside the quotation marks for the first half of a quotation. 

DUMB RULE 4: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the speaker tag is 

followed by a comma before the quotation marks. 

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Chapter 13: Quotations: Mom/QuiioSitTch^rbSho Internal Revenue Service 167 



DUMB RULE 5: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the period at the 
end of the sentence is inside the quotation marks. 




DUMB RULE 6: In a sentence with an interrupted quotation, the second half of 
a quotation does not begin with a capital letter. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. “After the concert”, said Lulu, “the piano goes to the third floor.” 

B. “After the concert,” said Lulu, “The piano goes to the third floor.” 



Answer: Neither is correct. In sentence A, the comma after concert is in the 
wrong place. In sentence B, the second half of the quotation should not begin 
with a capital letter. Here is the correct sentence: 



“After the concert,” said Lulu, “the piano goes to the third floor.” 



Try another. Which sentence is correct? 

A. “Although I am only a humble musician, said Felonia, “I have the right to 
a piano-free sidewalk.” 

B. “Although I am only a humble musician,” said Felonia “I have the right to 
a piano-free sidewalk.” 

C. “Although I am only a humble musician,” said Felonia, I have the right to 
a piano-free sidewalk.” 

D. “Although I am only a humble musician,” said Felonia, “I have the right 
to a piano-free sidewalk.” 





Answer: Sentence D is correct. In sentence A, there should be a quotation 
mark after musician. In sentence B, a comma should be placed after Felonia. 

In sentence C, a quotation mark should be placed before /. (Annoying rules, 
aren’t they? So many things can go wrong with this type of sentence.) 

Notice that in all of the interrupted quotations I supply in this section, the 
quoted material adds up to only one sentence, even though it’s written in two 
separate parts. 

Avoiding run-on sentences With interrupted quotations 

When you plop a speaker tag right in the middle of someone’s conversation, 
make sure that you don’t create a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is actually 
two sentences that have been stuck together (that is, run together) with noth- 
ing to join them. (For more information on run-on sentences, see Chapter 7.) 
Just because you’re quoting is no reason to ignore the rules about joining sen- 
tences. Check out this set of examples: 

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WRONG: “When you move a piano, you must be careful,” squeaked 
Agwamp, “I could have been killed.” 

RIGHT: “When you move a piano, you must be careful,” squeaked 
Agwamp. “I could have been killed.” 



The quoted material forms two complete sentences: 

SENTENCE 1 : When you move a piano, you must be careful. 
SENTENCE 2: 1 could have been killed. 



Because the quoted material forms two complete sentences, you must write 
two separate sentences. If you cram this quoted material into one sentence, 
you’ve got a run-on. Here’s another set: 



WRONG: “Felonia is my best friend,” sobbed Agwamp, “on any other day I 
would have been walking with her and died instantly.” 

RIGHT: “Felonia is my best friend,” sobbed Agwamp. “On any other day I 
would have been walking with her and died instantly.” 




WHY IT IS RIGHT: Your quotation is actually two complete sentences, so 
you can’t run them together into one sentence. (Sentence 1 + Felonia is 
my best friend. Sentence 2 + On any other day / would have been walking 
with her and died instantly .) 

Remove the speaker tag and check the quoted material. What is left? Enough 
for half a sentence? That’s okay. Quoted material doesn’t need to express a 
complete thought. Enough material for one sentence? Also okay. Enough 
material for two sentences? Not okay, unless you write two sentences. 

Which is correct? 

A. “A piano hits the ground with tremendous force,” explained the physi- 
cist. “I would move to the side if I were you.” 

B. “A piano hits the ground with tremendous force,” explained the physi- 
cist, “I would move to the side if I were you.” 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. The quoted material forms two complete sen- 
tences and you most quote it that way. Sentence 1 + A piano hits the ground 
with tremendous force. Sentence 2+1 would move to the side if I were you. 



Here’s another. Which is correct? 



A. “I insist that you repeal the laws of physics, demanded Lola. “Pianos 
should not kill people.” 

B. “I insist that you repeal the laws of physics,” demanded Lola, “Pianos 
should not kil'Jvp^qfd^’tvsitcoms.com 




Chapter 13: Quotations: Internal Revenue Service 169 



C. “I insist that you repeal the laws of physics,” demanded Lola. “Pianos 
should not kill people.” 

Answer: C is correct. In A, a quotation mark is missing after the word physics. 
Choice B is a run-on. In C, the two complete thoughts are expressed in two 
sentences 



Quotations without speaker tags 

Not all sentences with quotations include speaker tags. The punctuation and 
capitalization rules for these sentences are a little different, though not more 
logical than other types of quotation mark rules. Check out these examples: 

According to the blurb on the book jacket, Analivia’s history of geometry 
is said to be “thrilling and unbelievable” by all who read it. 

Unaccustomed to Analivia’s monster ego, Plurabelle did not hesitate to 
say that “the book stinks.” 

When Legghorn said that the book “wasn’t as exciting as watching paint 
dry,” Analivia threw a pie in his face. 

Analivia later told the press that the pie was “barely warm” and “quite 
delicious.” 

Legghorn ’s lawyer is planning a lawsuit for “grievous injury to face 
and ego.” 

DUMB RULE 7: If the quotation doesn’t have a speaker tag, the first word of 
the quotation is not capitalized. 

DUMB RULE 8: No comma separates the quotation from the rest of the sen- 
tence if the quotation doesn’t have a speaker tag. 

Actually, rules 7 and 8 aren’t completely dumb. Quotations without speaker 
tags aren’t set off from the sentence; they’re tucked into the sentence. You 
don’t want to put a capital letter in the middle of the sentence, which is 
where nonspeaker-tag quotations usually end up. Also, omitting the comma 
preserves the flow of the sentence. 




Notice that quotations without speaker tags tend to be short — a few words 
rather than an entire statement. If you’re reporting a lengthy statement, 
you’re probably better off with a speaker tag and the complete quotation. If 
you want to extract only a few, relevant words from someone’s speech, you 
can probably do without a speaker tag. 



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2 

w 



„ _ 4 



Which is correct? 

A. Eggworthy said that the latest nutritional research was “Suspect” 
because the laboratory was “Unfair.” 

B. Eggworthy said that the latest nutritional research was, “suspect” 
because the laboratory was, “unfair.” 

C. Eggworthy said that the latest nutritional research was “suspect” 
because the laboratory was “unfair.” 



Sentence C is correct. In sentence A, suspect and unfair should not be capital- 
ized. In sentence B, no commas should be placed after was. 



Quotations utith question marks 

Remember Felonia’s piano from earlier in this chapter? When the piano 
nearly squashed Felonia, she said a few more things. (Not all of them are 
printable, but we’ll ignore those remarks.) Here are additional remarks from 
our pianist: 

“Are you trying to kill me?” asked Felonia as she shook her fist at the 
piano mover. 

“Didn’t you watch what you were doing?” she added, squinting into the sun. 

“How could you eat a tuna sandwich while hoisting a piano?” she contin- 
ued as she eyed his lunch. 

“Could I have a bite?” she queried. 

Let me put it another way: 

As she shook her first at the piano mover, Felonia asked, “Are you trying 
to kill me?” 

Squinting into the sun she added, “Didn’t you watch what you were doing?” 

As she eyed his lunch she continued, “How could you eat a tuna sand- 
wich while hoisting a piano?” 

She queried, “Could I have a bite?” 

What do you notice about these two sets of quotations? That’s right! The 
quoted words are questions. (Okay, I didn’t actually hear your answer, but 
I’m assuming that because you were smart enough to buy this book, you’re 
smart enough to notice these things.) And quotations that include questions 
follow the 

NOT-SO-DUMB RlM^M^iftHWIfeMuestion, put the question mark inside 
the quotation marks. 




Chapter 13: Quotations: Internal Revenue Service 171 



This rule makes good sense; it distinguishes a quoted question from a quota- 
tion embedded in a question. Time to look at one more part of Felonia’s 
encounter with the falling piano. The piano mover answered Felonia, but no 
one could understand his words. (He had a mouthful of tuna fish.) I wonder 
what excuse he offered. 



Did he say, “I was just giving you a free piano”? 

Did he add, “I can’t give you a bite of my sandwich because I ate it all”? 
Did he continue, “I hope you’re not going to sue me”? 

Did he really declare, “It was just a piano”? 



The quoted words in this set are not questions. However, each entire sen- 
tence is a question. Now it’s time for more rules: 

SLIGHTLY-LESS-DUMB RULE 10: If the quoted words aren’t a question but the 
entire sentence is a question, the question mark goes outside the quotation 
marks. (This rule makes sense too, don’t you think?) 

To sum up the rules on question marks: 

u 0 If the quoted words are a question, put the question mark inside the quo- 
tation marks. 

a> If the entire sentence is a question, put the question mark outside the 
quotation marks. 

I know that some of you detail-oriented (okay, picky) people have thought of 
one more possibility. What about the occasions when the quote and the sen- 
tence are both questions? English grammar has a response. 

DUMB RULE 11: For those rare occasions when both the quoted words and 
the sentence are questions, put the question mark inside the quotation marks. 

Here’s an example of this rule: 

Did the mover really ask, “Is that lady for real?” 

No matter what, don’t use two question marks: 




WRONG: Did Felonia ask, “What’s the number of a good lawyer?”? 
RIGHT: Did Felonia ask, “What’s the number of a good lawyer?” 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Did Lulu say, “I wish a piano would drop on me so that I could sue?” 

B. Did Lulu say, “I wish a me so that I could sue”? 




172 Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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Answer: Sentence B is correct. Because the quoted words are not a question 
and the entire sentence is a question, the question mark goes outside the 
quotation marks. 



Quotations With exclamation points 

A word about exclamation points: These punctuation marks follow the same 
general rules as question marks. In other words, 

NOT-SO-DUMB RULE 12: If the entire sentence is an exclamation, but the 
quoted words aren’t, put the exclamation point outside the quotation marks. 

NOT-SO-DUMB RULE 13: If the quoted words are an exclamation, put the 
exclamation point inside the quotation marks. 

Here are some sample sentences with exclamation points: 

Ratrug said, “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” (The quoted words are an 
exclamation but the entire sentence is not.) 

I simply cannot believe that Ratrug actually said, “No, thank you”! (Now 
the entire sentence is an exclamation but the quoted words are not.) 

For those of you who like to dot every i and cross every t: 

DUMB RULE 14: If both the sentence and the quotation are exclamations, put 
the exclamation point inside the quotation marks. 

Take a look at this example: 

I simply cannot believe that Ratrug actually said, “Not if it were my 
mother’s dying wish would I run for president!” 

No matter what, don’t use two exclamation points: 

WRONG: I refuse to believe that Ratrug said, “In your dreams!”! 

RIGHT: I refuse to believe that Ratrug said, “In your dreams!” 



Quotations With semicoions 

Every hundred years or so you may write a sentence that has both a quota- 
tion and a semicolon. (In Chapter 15, 1 explain the semicolon rules in detail.) 
When you need to combine semicolons and quotations, here’s the rule. 



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Chapter 13: Quotations: MofO/lliiiestXIiaiicthe Internal Revenue Service 173 



DUMB RULE 15: When writing a sentence that includes a quotation and a 
semicolon, put the semicolon outside the quotation marks. 

Sneak a peek at this example: 

Cedric thinks that polyester is a food group; “I can’t imagine eating any- 
thing else,” he said. 



and 



Cedric said, “I can’t imagine eating anything but polyester”; he must have 
the IQ of a sea slug. 

Okay, maybe that last sentence was a bit nasty. I apologize to sea slugs 
everywhere. 



Quotations inside quotations 

Now the topic of quotations becomes a little complicated. Sometimes you 
need to place a quotation inside a quotation. Consider this situation: 

Agwamp, President of the Future Engineers of America, sees himself as a para- 
gon of popularity. He doesn’t want Archie to join the club because Archie 
wears a plastic pocket-protector filled with pens and pencils. Agwamp wants 
Archie to dump the pocket-protector, but Archie is outraged by the demand. 
You’re writing a story about Archie and the Future Engineers of America. You’re 
quoting Archie, who is quoting Agwamp. How do you punctuate this quotation? 

Archie says, “Agwamp had the nerve to tell me, ‘Your pocket protector is 
nerd-city and dumpster-ready.’” 

A sentence like this has to be sorted out. Without any punctuation, here’s 
what Agwamp said: 

Your pocket protector is nerd-city and dumpster-ready. 

Without any punctuation, here are all the words that Archie said: 

Agwamp had the nerve to tell me your pocket protector is nerd-city and 
dumpster-ready. 

Agwamp’s words are a quotation inside another quotation. So Agwamp’s 
words are enclosed in single-quotation marks, and Archie’s are enclosed (in 
the usual way) in double quotation marks. Which brings me to 

DUMB RULE 16: A quotatio^Wsf(f4 c c^Stff(S- s 4iQ8’tation gets single quotation 
marks. 




774 



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British English Alert! 



Just to make things even more difficult for writ- 
ers of English everywhere, here's an important 
fact. Despite having settled their differences 
shortly after the Boston Tea Party, in some 
areas (grammar, for example) the British and 
the Americans are still fighting. Everything I've 
told you about quotation rules is true for 
American English grammar. The reverse is often 
true for British English grammar. The British fre- 
quently use single quotation marks when 
they're quoting, and double marks for a quota- 
tion inside another quotation. Thus a British 



book might punctuate Lulu's comment in the in 
this way: 

Lulu says, 'As a strong opponent of pierc- 
ing, I am sorry to tell you that Lola told me, 
"I'm thinking of piercing my tongue."' 

The name of the quotations marks is also differ- 
ent. In British English, the little squiggles are 
called "inverted commas." What's a puzzled 
grammarian to do? Follow the custom of the 
country he or she is in. 



Another example: Lola says, “I’m thinking of piercing my tongue.” Lulu tells 
Lola’s mom about Lola’s plan, adding a comment as she does so. Here’s the 
complete statement: 

Lulu says, “As a strong opponent of piercing, I am sorry to tell you that 
Lola told me, T’m thinking of piercing my tongue.’” 

Lola’s words are inside single quotation marks and Lulu’s complete statement 
is in double quotation marks. 




Commas and periods follow the same rules in both double and single 
quotations. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Angel complained, “He said to me, ‘You are a devil.’” 

B. Angel complained, “He said to me, “You are a devil.” 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. You must enclose You are a devil in single quota- 
tion marks and the larger statement He said to me you are a devil in double 
quotation marks. The period at the end of the sentence goes inside both marks. 




Quote or quotation? I’ve been using the term quotation because that’s the cor- 
rect word. In conversational English, quote and quotation are interchangeable. 
Strictly speaking, however, quote is what you do (in other words, a verb) and 
quotation is a thing (that is, a noun). See Chapter 1 for more information on 

when conversational English is acceptable. 

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Chapter 13: Quotations: Mom/Ruie$tXhmthe Internal Revenue Service 175 



Who Said That 7 Identifying 
Speaker Changes 

In a conversation, people take turns speaking. Take a look at this extremely 
mature discussion: 

“You sat on my tuna fish sandwich,” Legghorn said. 

“No, I didn’t,” Ludmilla said. 

“Yes, you did,” Legghorn said. 

“Did not!” Ludmilla said. 

“Did too!” Legghorn said. 

Notice that every time the speaker changes, a new paragraph is formed. By 
starting a new paragraph every time the speaker changes, the conversation is 
easy to follow; the reader always knows who is talking. 

Here’s another version of the tuna fight: 

“You sat on my tuna fish sandwich,” Legghorn said. 

“No, I didn’t,” Ludmilla said. 

“Yes, you did.” 

“Did not!” 

“Did too!” 

Sounds better, doesn’t it? The speaker tags Eire left out in this version, after 
the first exchange. Yet you can still figure out who is speaking because of the 
paragraph breaks. 

DUMB RULE 17: Every change of speaker is signaled by a new paragraph. 

This rule applies even if the argument deteriorates into single-word state- 
ments such as 

“Yes!” 

“No!” 

or some other single-word statements (I won’t specify, because this is a 
family-friendly book). A new paragraph signals each speaker change, no 
matter how short the quotation. (By the way, Ludmilla did sit on his tuna 
sandwich; I can tell by the mayonnaise stains on her skirt. However, Legghorn 
left the sandwich on her chW^^H^T^SHfyW blame.) 





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In novels, you may have a quotation from one speaker that is several para- 
graphs long. Budding novelists who are reading this book, please take note: 
The quotation begins with a quotation mark. Don’t put a quotation mark at 
the end of any paragraph within the quotation. Whenever you begin a new 
paragraph, put a quotation mark. When the quotation is completely finished 
(at the end of the last paragraph), put a quotation mark. 

Who said what? Label each statement, using the paragraph clues. 

“Are you in favor of piano-tossing?” asked Lochness curiously. 



“Not really,” replied Cedric. “I like my pianos to have all four feet on 
the floor.” 



“But there’s something about music in the air that appeals to me.” 

“There’s something about no broken bones, no concussions, and no flat- 
tened bodies that appeals to me.” 

“You really have no artistic instinct!” 



Answer: Here’s the passage again, with the speakers’ names inserted. (Note 
the punctuation.) 



“Are you in favor of piano-tossing?” asked Lochness curiously. 

“Not really,” replied Cedric. “I like my pianos to have all four feet on 
the floor.” 

Lochness continued, “But there’s something about music in the air that 
appeals to me.” 

Cedric countered, “There’s something about no broken bones, no concus- 
sions, and no flattened bodies that appeals to me.” 

“You really have no artistic instinct!” shouted Lochness. 



Using Sanitizing Quotation Marks 

Possibly the most annoying grammatical habit (other than saying ’n when 
you mean and, as in Buns ’n Burgers) is the sanitizing quotation mark. The 
sanitizing quotation mark tells the reader that you don’t completely approve 
of the words inside the quotation marks. To get a better idea of what I’m 
describing, read this paragraph: 

Quotation marks are a “necessary” part of writing. I don’t like to look at 
little “squiggles” when I am concentrating on a story, but they show that I 
am a “hip” writer. 



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Chapter 13: Quotations: l\Aoi^vRu1e&i , Efaan<lhe Internal Revenue Service 777 



Now tell me, why are there three sets of quotation marks in that paragraph? I 
have no idea. I think people who write paragraphs like the one above are 
trying to be cute, while leaving themselves an out (an “out”?) in case the 
reader is not amused. These quotation marks put a little distance between 
the writer and what the writer says. They say, “I know this word is a little 
unusual or controversial. That’s why I put it in quotation marks. If you don’t 
like it, don’t blame me. I’m only quoting.” My advice? If you mean what you 
write, stand by it. Avoid using quotation marks to sanitize your writing. 



Quoting Slang 

Slang is highly informal speech that falls outside standard discourse. You 
hear slang every day — it becomes part of your culture — at home, work, 
school, and so on. (For more information on slang, see Chapter 1.) If you’re 
quoting slang and you want to show that you know it’s slang, quotation 
marks are helpful. Check out this example: 

Archie knew that the guys thought him “nerd-city,” but he was deter- 
mined not to abandon his beloved pocket protector just because it was 
considered “uncool.” 

The writer knows that “nerd-city” and “uncool” aren’t correct, but those 
words show the ideas of Archie’s co-workers. The quotation marks allow the 
writer to use slang without appearing ignorant. These sanitizing quotation 
marks are acceptable. 

Don’t overuse sanitizing quotation marks. Think of them as plutonium; a little 
goes a long way. Or, to sanitize that statement, a little goes a “long” way. See 
what I mean about annoying? 

A useful little word is sic. Sic means that you’re quoting exactly what was said 
or written, even though you know something is wrong. In other words, you 
put a little distance between yourself and the error by showing the reader 
that the person you’re quoting made the mistake, not you. For example, if 
you’re quoting from the works of Dan Quayle, former Vice President of the 
United States (and a very poor speller) you may write 

“I would like a potatoe [sic] for supper.” 




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Punctuating Titles : When 
to Use Quotation Marks 

In your writing, sometimes you may need to include the name of a magazine, 
the headline of a newspaper article, the title of a song or movie, and so on. 
When punctuating these names, headlines, and titles, keep in mind these two 
options: 

1. Put the title in quotation marks. Quotation marks enclose titles of 
smaller works or parts of a whole. 

or 

2. Set the title off from the rest of the writing with italics or underlining. 
By using italics or underlining, you set off titles of larger works or 
complete works. 

These options aren’t interchangeable. Each option has a different use. To put 
it another way, quotation marks are for jockeys. Italics and underlining are 
for basketball players. One is for little, the other for big. 

Use quotation marks for the titles of 

; u 0 poems 
u 0 stories 
! u 0 essays 
; v 0 songs 
v 0 chapter titles 

v 0 magazine or newspaper articles 
v 0 individual episodes of a television series 

Use italics or underlining for the titles of 

v 0 collections of poetry, stories, or essays 
v 01 titles of books 

u 0 titles of CD’s or tapes or records (Do they still make records?) 
v 0 magazines or newspapers 
television shows 
v 0 plays 



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Chapter 13: Quotations: More Rules Than the Internal Revenue Service 



Here are some examples: 

v 0 “A Thousand Excuses for Missing the Tax Deadline” (a newspaper arti- 
cle) in The Ticker Tape Journal (a newspaper) 

v 0 “Ode to Taxes Uncalculated” (a poem) in The Tax Poems (a book of 
poetry) 

v 0 “I Got the W2 Blues” (a song title) on Me and My Taxes (a CD containing 
many songs) 

u* “On the Art of Deductions” (an essay) in Getting Rich and Staying Rich 
(a magazine) 

u* “Small Business Expenses” (an individual episode) on The IRS Report 
(a television series) 

u* April 15th (a play) 




You may be wondering which letters you should capitalize in a title. For 
information on capitalization, see Chapter 16. 

Add quotation marks and italics to the following paragraph. 

Griselda slumped slowly into her chair as the teacher read The Homework 
Manifesto aloud in class. Griselda’s essay, expressing her heartfelt dislike 
of any and all assignments, was never intended for her teacher’s eyes. 
Griselda had hidden the essay inside the cover of her textbook, The Land 
and People of Continents You Never Heard Of. Sadly, the textbook com- 
pany, which also publishes The Most Boring Mathematics Possible, had 
recently switched to thinner paper, and the essay was clearly visible. The 
teacher ripped the essay from Griselda’s frightened hands. Griselda had 
not been so embarrassed since the publication of her poem I Hate 
Homework in the school magazine, Happy Thoughts. 



Answer: Put “The Homework Manifesto” and “I Hate Homework” in quotation 
marks, because they’re titles of an essay and a poem. Italicize The Land and 
People of Continents You Never Heard Of and The Most Boring Mathematics 
Possible and Happy Thoughts, because they’re titles of books and a magazine. 



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Chapter 14 

The Pause That Refreshes: 
Commas 



In This Chapter 

►- Understanding why commas are important 

► Using commas in a series 

K Separating descriptions with commas 

Placing a comma to indicate the person you’re addressing 

► Punctuating dates correctly 



loud, commas are the sounds of silence — short pauses that contrast 
r * with the longer pauses at the end of each sentence. Commas are really 
signals for your reader. Stop here, they say, but not for too long. 



Commas also cut parts of your sentence away from the whole, separating 
something from everything around it in order to change the meaning of the 
sentence. When you’re speaking, you do the same thing with your tone of 
voice and the timing of your breaths. 



So why do so many commas land in the wrong place? Perhaps because some 
writers throw them in wherever the writer needs to stop and think. The key is 
to put the commas where the reader needs a break. The rules concerning 
commas aren’t very hard. In fact, they actually have a logic to them. In this 
chapter, I guide you through the logic so you know where to put these punc- 
tuation marks in several common situations. For more information on comma 
use, see Chapters 13 and 25. 



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Distinguishing hems: Commas in Series 

Let’s say that you sent your friend Cedric to the store with a long grocery list. 
Because you have only a scrap of paper and because your electronic orga- 
nizer is out of batteries, you write everything on one line. 

flashlight batteries butter cookies ice cream cake 

How many things does Cedric have to buy? Perhaps only three: 

flashlight batteries 
butter cookies 
ice cream cake 

Or five: 

flashlight 
batteries 
butter cookies 
ice cream 
cake 



How does Cedric know? He doesn’t, unless you use commas. Here’s what 
Cedric actually needs to buy — all four items: 

flashlight batteries, butter cookies, ice cream, cake 

To put it in a sentence: 

Cedric has to buy flashlight batteries, butter cookies, ice cream, and 
cake. 



The commas between these items are signals. When you read the list aloud, 
the commas emerge as breaths: 

Cedric has to buy flashlight batteries [breath] butter cookies [breath] ice 
cream [breath] and cake. 




You need commas between each item on the list, with one important excep- 
tion. The comma in front of the word and is optional. Why? Because once you 
say and, you’ve already separated the last two items. But if you want to throw 
an extra comma there, you’re welcome to do so. It’s your choice. 



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_ Chapter 14: The Pause That Refreshes: Commas 




Never put a comma in front of the first item on the list. 

WRONG: Cedric has to buy, flashlight batteries, butter cookies, ice cream 
and cake. 



RIGHT: Cedric has to buy flashlight batteries, butter cookies, ice cream 
and cake. 



ALSO RIGHT: Cedric has to buy flashlight batteries, butter cookies, ice 
cream, and cake. 

ALSO RIGHT, BUT NOT A GOOD IDEA: Cedric has to buy flashlight batter- 
ies and butter cookies and ice cream and cake. 





You don’t need commas at all in the last sentence because the word and does 
the job. Grammatically, that sentence is fine. In reality, if you write a sentence 
with three ands, your reader will think you sound like a little kid or a tape on 
continuous rewind. 

Punctuate the following sentence. 

Jellibelle requested a jelly doughnut a silk dress four sports cars and a 
racehorse in exchange for the rights to the computer code she had written. 



Answer: Jellibelle requested a jelly doughnut, a silk dress, four sports cars, 
and a racehorse in exchange for the rights to the computer code she had 
written. Note: You may omit the comma before the and. 



Separating a List of Descriptions 

Your writing relies on nouns and verbs to get your point across. But if you’re 
like most people, you also enrich your sentences with descriptions. In gram- 
mar terminology, you add adjectives and adverbs. (For more information on 
adjectives and adverbs, see Chapter 8.) Notice the descriptions in the follow- 
ing sentences: 

“What do you think of me?” Jellibelle asked Jilly in an idle moment. 

Jilly took a deep breath, “I think you are a sniffling, smelly, pimple- 
tongued, frizzy-haired monster.” 

“Thank you,” said Jellibelle, who was trying out for the part of the wicked 
witch in the school play. “Do you think I should paint my teeth black too?” 

Notice the commas in Jilly’s answer. Four descriptions are listed: sniffling, 

smelly, pimple-tongued, frizzy-haired. 

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,*B E tr 



A comma separates each of the descriptions from the next, but there is no 
comma between the last description (frizzy-haired) and the word that it’s 
describing (monster). 

The four descriptions in the previous example are adjectives. All of these 
adjectives describe the noun monster. 



Here’s a little more of Jellibelle and Jilly’s conversation: 



“So do I get the part?” asked Jellibelle. 

“Maybe,” answered Jilly. “I have four sniffling, smelly, pimple-tongued, 
frizzy-haired monsters waiting to audition. I’ll let you know.” 

Now look closely at Jilly’s answer. This time there are five descriptions of the 
word monster: four, sniffling, smelly, pimple-tongued, frizzy-haired. 

There are commas after sniffling, smelly, and pimple-tongued. As previously 
stated, no comma follows frizzy-haired because you shouldn’t put a comma 
between the last description and the word that it describes. But why is there 
no comma after four ? Here’s why: sniffling, smelly, pimple-tongued, and frizzy- 
haired are more or less equal in importance in the sentence. They have differ- 
ent meanings, but they all do the same job — telling you how disgusting 
Jellibelle’s costume is. Four is in a different category. It gives you different 
information. (It tells you how many monsters are waiting, not how they look), 
so it’s not jumbled into the rest of the list. 




Numbers aren’t separated from other descriptions or from the word(s) that 
they describe. Don’t put a comma after a number. Also, don’t use commas to 
separate other descriptions from words that indicate number or amount — 
many, more, few, less, and so forth. 



RIGHT: Sixteen smelly, bedraggled, stained hats were lined up on the shelf 
marked, “WITCH COSTUME.” 



WRONG: Sixteen, smelly, bedraggled, stained hats were lined up on the 
shelf marked, “WITCH COSTUME.” 



RIGHT: Additional stinky, mud-splattered, toeless shoes sat on the shelf 
marked, “GOBLIN SHOES.” 

WRONG: Additional, stinky, mud-splattered, toeless shoes sat on the shelf 
marked, “GOBLIN SHOES.” 



RIGHT: No drippy, disgusting, artificial wounds were in stock. 
WRONG: No, drippy, disgusting, artificial wounds were in stock. 



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. Chapter 14: The Pause That Refreshes: Commas 



More descriptive words that you shouldn’t separate from other descriptions 
or from the words that they describe include other, another, this, that, these, 
those. 

RIGHT: This green, glossy, licorice-flavored lipstick is needed for the 
witch’s makeup kit. 

WRONG: This, green, glossy, licorice-flavored lipstick is needed for the 
witch’s makeup kit. 

RIGHT: Those shiny, battery-powered, factory-sealed witches’ wands are 
great. 

WRONG: Those, shiny, battery-powered, factory-sealed witches’ wands 
are great. 

Punctuate this sentence. 

Jilly was worried about the musical number in which one hundred scrag- 
gly fluorescent flowing beards come to life and dance around the stage. 

Answer: Jilly was worried about the musical number in which one hundred 
scraggly, fluorescent, flowing beards come to life and dance around the stage. 

Note: Don’t put a comma after a number (one hundred) or after the last 
description (flowing). 

In your writing, you may create other sentences in which the descriptions 
should not be separated by commas. For example, sometimes a few descrip- 
tive words seem to blend into each other to create one larger description in 
which one word is clearly more important than the rest. Technically the list 
of descriptions may provide two or three separate facts about the word that 
you’re describing, but in practice, they don’t deserve equal attention. Take a 
look at this example; 

Jilly just bought that funny little French hat. 

You already know that you should not separate that from funny with a comma. 
But what about hinny, little, and French ? If you write 

Jilly just bought that funny, little, French hat. 

you’re giving equal weight to each of the three descriptions. Do you really 
want to emphasize all three qualities? Probably not. In fact, you’re probably 
not making a big deal out of the fact that the hat is funny and little. Instead, 
you’re emphasizing that the hat is French. So you don’t need to put commas 
between the other descriptions. 

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Sentences like the example require judgment calls. Use this rule as a guide: If 
the items in a description are not of equal importance, don’t separate them 
with commas. 



J (ou Talkin' to Me) Direct Address 

When writing a message to someone, you need to separate the person’s name 
from the rest of the sentence with a comma. Otherwise, your reader may mis- 
read the intention of the message. Take a look at the following note that 
Legghorn left on the door: 

Lochness wants to kill Wendy. I locked him in this room. 

You think: Wendy is in danger. That’s a shame. Oh well, I guess I’m safe. How- 
ever, when you unlock the door and sit down for a pleasant chat, Lochness 
jumps up and starts chasing you around the room. You escape and run 
screaming to Legghorn. “Why didn’t you tell me that Lochness was violent!” 
Legghorn pleads guilty to a grammatical crime. He forgot to put in the 
comma! Here’s what he meant: 

Lochness wants to kill, Wendy. I locked him in his room. 

It was your bad luck to read a note intended for Wendy. In grammarspeak, 
Wendy is in a direct-address sentence. Because you’re speaking to Wendy, 
you separate out her name, cutting her off from the rest of the sentence with 
a comma. Direct address is also possible at the beginning or in the middle of 
a sentence: 




Wendy, Lochness wants to kill, so I locked him in his room. 
Lochness wants to kill, Wendy, so I locked him in his room. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The teacher called, Edwina, but I answered. 

B. The teacher called Edwina, but I answered. 



Answer: It depends. If you’re talking to Edwina, telling her that Miss Sharkface 
phoned your house to report missing homework but you, not your mom, 
picked up the phone, then sentence A is correct. However, if you’re explain- 
ing that the teacher screamed to Edwina, “Bring your homework up here this 
minuter and instead you replied, “Miss Sharkface, Edwina asked me to tell 
you that a dog ate her homework,” sentence B is correct. 



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Chapter M: Ithe Pause That Refreshes: Commas 187 



Using Commas in Addresses and bates 

Commas are good, all-purpose separators. They won’t keep you and your 
worst enemy apart, but they do a fine job on addresses and dates — 
especially when items that are usually placed on individual lines are put 
next to each other on the same line. 



Addressing addresses 

Where are you from? Jilly is from Mars, at least according to her friends. 
Jellibelle is from a small town called Bellyjelly. Here’s her (fictional) address: 

Ms. Jellibelle Tumtum 
223 Center Street 
Bellyjelly, New York 10001 

If you put Jellibelle’s address into a sentence, you have to separate each item 
of the address, as you see here: 

Jellibelle Tumtum lives at 223 Center Street, Bellyjelly, New York 10001. 

Here’s the address (envelope style) for her best friend Jilly: 

Jilly Willy 
53 Asimov Court 
Mars Colonial Hills Estate 
Mars 50001 

And now the sentence version: 

Jilly Willy lives at 53 Asimov Court, Mars Colonial Hills Estate, 

Mars 50001. 

Notice that the house number and street are not separated by a comma, nor 
are the state (or planet) and the zip code. 

If the sentence continues, you must separate the last item in the address 
from the rest of the sentence with another comma: 

Jellibelle Tumtum lives at 223 Center Street, Bellyjelly, New York 10001, but 
she is thinking of moving to Mars in order to be closer to her friend Jilly. 

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188 Part III: No Garage, but Plentpf C _T. 



Jilly Willy lives at 53 Asimov Court, Mars Colonial Hills Estate, Mars 
50001, but she is thinking of moving to Venus in order to be closer to her 
friend Alex. 




If there is no street address — just a city and a state — put a comma between 
the city and the state. If the sentence continues after the state name, place a 
comma after the state. 

Jellibelle Tumtum lives in Bellyjelly, New York, but she is thinking of 
moving to a Martian colony. 




Jilly Willy used to live in Bellyjelly, New York, near the launch pad. 

Commas also separate countries from the city/state/province: 

Lochness lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, near a large body of water. His 
brother Legghorn just built a house in Zilda, Wisconsin. 

Punctuate the following sentence. 

Police believe that the missing salamander ran away from his home at 
77 Main Street Zilda Wisconsin because of a dispute over the number of 
insects he would receive for each meal. 



Answer: Police believe that the missing salamander ran away from his home 
at 77 Main Street, Zilda, Wisconsin, because of a dispute over the number of 
insects he would receive for each meal. 

Here’s another sentence that needs additional punctuation: 

Responding to a 553 (salamander in the garden) call on the radio, police 
cruisers proceeded to 99-09 Center Street Wilda Illinois where they dis- 
covered the missing animal. 

Answer: Responding to a 553 (salamander in the garden) call on the 
radio, police cruisers proceeded to 99-09 Center Street, Wilda, Illinois, 
where they discovered the missing animal. 



Punctuating dates 

If I click on the toolbar of my word-processing program to insert the date and 
time, I see several options, including: 



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Chapter 14: The Pause That Refreshes: Commas 



189 



September 28, 2000 
9/28/2000 





Sept. 28, 2000 

If you aren’t sure how to abbreviate a particular month (or any other word), 
check your dictionary. 

Any of the three dates above are fine for the top of a letter. When the date is 
alone on a line, the only comma you have to worry about is the one after the 
day of the month. 

In many countries, the custom is to place the day before the month: 

28 September, 2000 



In this case, place the comma between the month and the year, but not 
between the day and the month. 

To insert a date into a sentence, I need one more comma: 



On September 28, 2000, Lulu ate several thousand gummy candies. 



or 



Lulu was especially hungry on September 28, 2000, when she ate several 
thousand gummy candies. 




Always use commas to separate the year from the rest of the sentence. 
Punctuate this sentence. 

Lola testified under oath that on December 18 1999 she saw Lulu place a 
carton of gummy bears under the counter without paying for them. 



Answer: Lola testified under oath that on December 18, 1999, she saw Lulu 
place a carton of gummy bears under the counter without paying for them. 



Try another. 



Lulu’s testimony was that on January 8 2001 Lola herself stole a carton of 
gummy bears. 



Answer: Lulu’s testimony was that on January 8, 2001, Lola herself stole a 
carton of gummy bears. 



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/ 00 HI: No Garage, but PI enty^'Mecliiani cs c ° m 



Flying Soto: Introductory Words 

Yes, this section introduces a comma rule. No, it’s not optional. Well, you 
probably know it already. Oh, I’ll explain it anyway. Okay, the rule is that you 
must separate words that aren’t part of the sentence but instead comment on 
the meaning of the sentence. I’ll put it another way: 



yes 

no 

well 

oh 

okay 

These words are known as introductory words. They frequently appear at the 
beginning of a sentence and are set off from what follows by commas. If you 
omit these words, the sentence still means the same thing. Read these exam- 
ples twice, once with the introductory words and once without. See how the 
meaning stays the same? 

Yes, you are allowed to chew gum balls during class, but don’t complain 
to me if you break a tooth. 

No, you are not allowed to write the exam in blood as a protest against 
the amount of studying you need to do in order to pass this course. 

Well, you may consider moving on to another topic if you have exhausted 
the creative possibilities of “My Favorite Lightbulb.” 

Oh, I didn’t know that you needed your intestine today. 

Okay, I’ll try to hit the ball, not the catcher this time. 




To sum up the rule on introductory words: Use commas to separate them 
from the rest of the sentence, or omit them entirely. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Well Ludmilla plays the piano well when she is in the mood. 

B. Well, Ludmilla plays the piano, well, when she is in the mood. 

C. Well, Ludmilla plays the piano well when she is in the mood. 



Answer: Sentence C is correct. If you omit the first word, the sentence means 
exactly the same thing. Well is an introductory word that a comma should sep- 
arate from the rest of the sentence. In sentence A, there is no comma after well. 
In sentence B, the first comma is correct, but the second well shouldn’t be sep- 
arated from the rest^YWm a se h nYenc^6ecause it’s not an introductory word. 




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Chapter 15 

Adding Information: Semicolons, 
Dashes, and Colons 



In This Chapter 

- Joining two sentences with semicolons 

► Using semicolons with fake joiners and in lists 

► Knowing where to place a colon in a business letter, list, and quotation 

► Separating two parts of a sentence with a colon 

► Using dashes effectively 



f 

Ina classic episode of an old detective show, The Rockford Files, the hero’s 
sidekick writes a book. He hands a thick pile of typing paper to Rockford 
and waits for his reader’s reaction. Jim Rockford studies the manuscript for a 
moment and points out that the entire thing is written as one sentence. There 
is no punctuation whatsoever. The author explains that he’s going to put “all 
that stuff” in later. 



Many writers sympathize with the hero’s sidekick. “All that stuff” is a real 
pain. Who has time to worry about punctuation when the fire of creativity 
burns? But the truth is that without punctuation, you may not get your point 
across. In this chapter, I explain three useful little items — semicolons, 
colons, and dashes. 



Gtuing Complete Thoughts 
Together: Semicotons 

Semicolons (a dot on top of a comma — ;) can glue one complete sentence to 
another. An example: 



Sentence 1: Arthur had\©£%w(ai]3faista 
Sentence 2: He went to the store. 




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You can glue these two sentences together with a semicolon: 

Arthur had only one shoelace left; he went to the store. 

You can also join sentences together with words such as and, but, or, nor, 
since, because, so, and so forth. In general, semicolons attach sentences to 
each other without joining words. The sentences that semicolons attach 
should have a logical relation to each other. For more information on joining 
sentences and a complete discussion of how to do so with semicolons, see 
Chapter 7. 

Joining words are called conjunctions. And, or, but, yet, nor, so, and for are 
co-ordinate conjunctions. Because, since, after, although, where, when, and so 
forth are subordinate conjunctions. For more information on conjunctions, 
see Chapter 7. 





Using semicolons With false joiners 

It’s almost time for the marathon. As you stretch your muscles and focus 
your mind, you notice that the sole of your sneaker is loose. A gaping hole 
gives you a fine view of your sweat socks. What to do? You run into a nearby 
store and grab a stapler. Five quick clicks and you’re on your way to glory. 

I don’t think so! The stapler looks like a solution to your problem, but in real- 
ity, it was never intended to attach soles to sneakers. (What really happens? 
Your sneaker falls apart on the far turn, a staple sticks you, and you drop out 
about 26 miles too soon. Then you get arrested for shoplifting the stapler.) 

Some words are like a stapler at a marathon. Think of them as false joiners. At 
first glance they look like conjunctions. Analyze the meaning of each, and you 
see that they relate one idea to another. But grammatically they aren’t con- 
junctions, and they were never intended to attach one sentence to another. 
These false joiners don’t do the job. If you use them improperly, your sen- 
tence loses the race. Here’s an example: 

Maxwell ran into the house to get his silver hammer, however, the butler 
could not find it. 

Why is the sentence incorrect? You’ve got two complete sentences: 

SENTENCE 1: Maxwell ran into the house to get his silver hammer. 
SENTENCE 2: The butler could not find it. 

However is not a joining word, even though it looks like one. So the two com- 
plete sentences are jammed into one long sentence, with nothing holding 
them together. In ^ ve become a run-on sentence. (For 




Chapter 15: AddingvtnformatieiipSemieolons, Dashes, and Colons 



more information on run-on sentences, see Chapter 7.) If you want to keep 
the however, add a semicolon. Here’s a legal combination: 

Maxwell ran into the house to get his silver hammer; however, the butler 
could not find it. 

Or, you may decide to make two sentences: 

Maxwell ran into the house to get his silver hammer. However, the butler 
could not find it. 

The most common false joiners are however, consequently, also, moreover, 
therefore, nevertheless, besides, thus, indeed, and then. Don’t put these words 
on your no-no list, because they add lots of meaning to a sentence. Just make 
sure that you use them with semicolons or with a single idea. Never use them 
to combine sentences. 

The false joiners listed in the preceding tip are adverbs. (For more informa- 
tion on adverbs, see Chapter 8.) 

A few phrases — for example and for instance — also look like joiners, but 
they aren’t. They are prepositional phrases, not conjunctions. Here’s another 
example of a run-on and its correction: 

RUN-ON: Agwamp is noted for his temper tantrums, for example, he 
threw a lemon at Lulu when she refused to make him a glass of lemonade. 

The sample sentence is a run-on because it contains two complete sentences: 

SENTENCE 1: Agwamp is noted for his temper tantrums. 

SENTENCE 2: He threw a lemon at Lulu when she refused to make him a 
glass of lemonade. 

The phrase for example is not strong enough to join these ideas. Use a semi- 
colon or make two sentences: 

Agwamp is noted for his temper tantrums; for example, he threw a lemon 
at Lulu when she refused to make him a glass of lemonade. 



or 



Agwamp is noted for his temper tantrums. For example, he threw a lemon 
at Lulu when she refused to make him a glass of lemonade. 

A comma sets apart most of these false joiners from the second half of the 
sentence. If you’ve made two separate sentences, a comma probably sets off 
the false joiner from the resfWt^S^fft^fl^: 00111 





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Correct or incorrect? 

A. Aretha sang with all her heart; therefore, the glass in the recording 
booth shattered. 



B. Aretha sang with all her heart, therefore, the glass in the recording 
booth shattered. 



C. Aretha sang with all her heart. Therefore, the glass in the recording 
booth shattered. 



Answer: Sentences A and C are correct, but sentence B is incorrect. Therefore 
is a false joiner. If you want to use it, add a semicolon or a true joining word 
(a conjunction). You may also make two sentences. 

Here’s the bottom line: in combining two complete sentences, be sure to use 
a semicolon or a conjunction. Don’t use a comma, an adverb, or a preposi- 
tional phrase. 



Separating items in a list (Pith semicolons 

Salamander is writing his guest list for the annual Reptile-Amphibian Ball. He 
plans to invite quite a few important people. Here, without punctuation, are 
some of the lucky guests: 

Oscar Diamondback the nation’s leading reptile historian Annamaria 
Komodo the dragon expert a keeper from the local zoo the movie villain 
known as “The Snake” and of course Newt a former congressman 

Confusing, isn’t it? Perhaps commas will help: 

Oscar Diamondback, the nation’s leading reptile historian, Annamaria 
Komodo, the dragon expert, a keeper from the local zoo, the movie villain 
known as “The Snake,” and of course, Newt, a former congressman 

The caterer wants to know how many orders of reptile chow are required, but 
the list has some names and some titles. A few of the names and titles are 
paired, indicating one person. A few are not paired, indicating two people. 
How can you tell the difference? 

If the list isn’t punctuated or is punctuated only with commas, you can’t tell 
the difference. All those names and titles are jumbled together. You need 
something stronger than a comma to separate the elements of the list. You 
need — super comma! Well, actually you need semicolons. Here’s the correct 
version: 



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Chapter 15: Adding Information: Semicolons, Dashes, and Colons 



Salamander is making out his guest list for the annual Reptile-Amphibian 
Ball. He plans to invite Oscar Diamondback; the nation’s leading reptile 
historian; Annamaria Komodo, the dragon expert; a keeper from the local 
zoo; the movie villain known as “The Snake”; and of course, Newt, a 
former congressman. 

The rule for semicolons in lists is very simple: 

When any items in a list include commas, separate all the items with 
semicolons. 

Don’t put a semicolon before the first item on the list. 

& Put a semicolon between the last two items on the list (before the 
conjunction). 

Which is correct? 

A. During the race Festus the Frog vowed that he would invite all the 
lizards, who are notoriously picky eaters, to a barbecue, make speeches 
about the effect of swamp pollution on the wildlife habitat, and begin a 
petition to remove the word “amphibious” from all motor vehicles. 

B. During the race Festus the Frog vowed that he would invite all the 
lizards, who are notoriously picky eaters, to a barbecue; make speeches 
about the effect of swamp pollution on the wildlife habitat; and begin a 
petition to remove the word “amphibious” from all motor vehicles. 

Answer: The punctuation of sentence B is correct. One of the items in the list 
has commas in it: 

that he would invite all the lizards, who are notoriously picky eaters, to a 
barbecue 

so you must separate the items on the list by semicolons. Notice that you 
need a semicolon before the word and. 



Creating a Stopping Point: Cotons 

A colon is one dot on top of another — :. It shows up when a simple comma 
isn’t strong enough. The colon shows more intensity. (It also shows up in 
those smiley faces — the so-called emoticons — that people write in their 
e-mails.) In this section, I look at the colon in a few of its natural habitats: 
business letters, lists, and quotations. 





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Addressing a business letter 

Colons appear in business letters, as you see in the following examples. 
Dear Mr. Ganglia: 

You are getting on my nerves. You’re fired. 

Sincerely, 

I.M. Incharj 



To Whom It May Concern: 

Everyone in the division is fired also. 
Sincerely, 

I.M. Incharj 




The colon makes a business letter more formal. The opposite of a business 
letter is what English teachers call a friendly letter, even if it says something 
like “I hate you.” When you write a friendly letter, put a comma after the 
name of the person who will receive the letter. 



Introducing lists 

When you insert a short list of items into a sentence, you don’t need a colon. 
(For more information on how to use commas in lists, see Chapter 14.) When 
you’re inserting a long list into a sentence, however, you may sometimes use 
a colon to introduce the list. Think of the colon as a good-sized gulp of air 
that readies the reader for a good-sized list. The colon precedes the first 
item. Here are some sentences that use colons at the beginning of long lists: 

Ethelred needed quite a few things: a horse, an army, a suit of armor, a 
few million arrows, a map, and a battle plan. 

Lulu’s trail plan was quite ambitious and included the following tasks: 
reach the summit of Mount Everest, create a storm shelter using only 
twigs, rebalance the ecology of the natural habitat, and chant “om” until 
world peace occurred. 

Lochness sent each spy away with several items: an excerpt from the 
encyclopedia entry on espionage, a collection of the essays of Mata Hari, 
a photocopy of the nation’s policy on treason, and a poison pill. 



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Chapter 15: Adding liifomtatfeiKcSeinicolons, Dashes, and Colons 



If you put a colon in front of a list, check the beginning of the sentence — the 
part before the colon. Does it make sense? Can it stand alone? If so, no prob- 
lem. The words before the colon must form a complete thought. If not, don’t 
use a colon. Here are some examples: 

WRONG: The problems with Ethelred’s battle plan are: no understanding 
of enemy troop movements, a lack of shelter and food for the troops, and 
a faulty trigger for the retreat signal. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: The words before the colon (The problems with 
Ethelred’s battle plan are) can’t stand alone. They form an incomplete 
thought. 

RIGHT: The problems with Ethelred’s battle plan are numerous: no under- 
standing of enemy troop movements, a lack of shelter and food for the 
troops, and a faulty trigger for the retreat signal. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: The words before the colon (The problems with Ethelred’s 
battle plan are numerous ) can stand alone. They form a complete thought. 

Here’s another set: 

WRONG: You should: build a fire, arrest Lochness, sedate Lulu, and return 
to your grammar studies. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: The words before the colon (you should) do not form a 
complete thought. 

RIGHT: You should accomplish the following: build a fire, arrest 
Lochness, sedate Lulu, and return to your grammar studies. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: The words before the colon are a complete sentence. 

(I know. When you say the following you’re waiting for more information. 
However, grammatically they form a complete sentence. For more infor- 
mation on complete sentences, see Chapter 5.) 



Introducing tong quotations 

The rule concerning colons with quotations is fairly easy. If the quotation is 
short, introduce it with a comma. If the quotation is long, introduce it with a 
colon. (In other words, you can precede pretty much everything a politician 
says with a colon, assuming you quote every precious, patriotic phrase and 
don’t go for the sound bite. However, you can precede everything your friend 
says, when she’s in one of her moods and you’re trying to pry information 
about of her tight little mouth, with a comma.) Take a look at the following 
two examples for comparison. 

What did Lola say at the me^g^aM^initfflte.com 

Lola stated, “I have no comment on the bedbug incident.” 





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Lola made a short statement, which a speaker tag (Lola stated) and a comma 
introduce. 



What did Ethelred say at the press conference? Too much. 

Ethelred explained: “The media has been entirely too critical of my prepa- 
rations for war. Despite the fact that I have spent the last ten years and 
two million gold coins perfecting new and improved armor, I have been 
told that I am unready to fight.” 

Ethelred made a long statement, which a speaker tag ( Ethelred explained) and 
a colon precede. 




When you write a term paper or an essay, you may put some short quotations 
(up to three lines) into the text. However, you shouldn’t place quotations that 
are longer than three lines in the text. Instead, you should double-indent and 
single-space the quoted material so that it looks like a separate block of print. 
Such quotations are called block quotations. Introduce the blocked quotation 
with a colon, and don’t use quotation marks. (The blocking shows that you’re 
quoting, so you don’t need the marks.) Here’s an example: 



Flugle, in his essay entitled, “Why Homework is Useless,” makes the following 
point: 



Studies show that students who have no time to rest are not as efficient as 
those who do. When a thousand teens were surveyed, they all indicated that 
sleeping, listening to music, talking on the phone, and watching television 
were more valuable than schoolwork. 



If you’re writing about poetry, you may use the same block format: 

The post-modern imagery of this stanza is in stark contrast to the 
imagery of the Romantic period: 

Roses are red, 

Violets are blue, 

Eggworthy is sweet, 

And stupid, too. 



Joining explanations 

Colons sometimes show up inside sentences, joining one complete sentence 
to another. Usually joining words such as and, but, and so on glue one sen- 
tence to another, or a semicolon does the job. (See “Gluing Complete 
Thoughts: Semicolons,” earlier in this chapter.) But in one special circum- 
stance, a colon may take over. 

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Chapter 15: Adding Information: Semicolons, Dashes, and Colons 




When the second sentence explains the meaning of the first sentence, you 
may join them with a colon. 

Smellyhead has only one problem: His new wig fell in a vat of perfume. 



Notice that I’ve capitalized the first word after the colon. Some writers prefer 
lower case for that spot. This decision is a matter of style, not grammar. 
Check with the authority figure in charge of your writing (teacher, boss, 
warden, and so on) for the officially approved style. 



Notice that the first sentence tells you that Smellyhead has a problem. The 
second sentence tells you the problem. Here’s one more example: 



Lola has refused to take the job: She believes the media will investigate 
every aspect of her life. 




The second half of the sentence explains why Lola doesn’t want to run for pres- 
ident. Actually, it explains why almost no Americans want to run for president. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lochness’s portrayal of the monster was panned by the critics, they 
called his disappearance into the murky water “melodramatic.” 



B. Lochness’s portrayal of the monster was panned by the critics; they 
called his disappearance into the murky water “melodramatic.” 



C. Lochness’s portrayal of the monster was panned by the critics: They 
called his disappearance into the murky water “melodramatic.” 



Answer: Both B and C are correct. Sentence A is a run-on sentence, with two 
complete thoughts joined only by a comma. Not allowed! Sentence B has a 
semicolon, and sentence C has a colon. Both are acceptable. 



Giving Additional Information — Dashes 




Dashes have two jobs. First job: They tell the reader that you’ve jumped 
tracks onto a new subject, just for a moment. Here are some examples: 

After we buy toenail clippers — the dinosaur in that exhibit could use a 
trim, you know — we’ll stop at the doughnut shop. 



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Standing on one manicured claw, the dinosaur — I forgot to tell you that 
the Creature Company finally delivered him to the museum — is the star 
of the exhibit. 

Oggle the Caveperson slinks in the background — painted in fluorescent 
orange by a curator who “wanted to liven the place up” — although 
everyone knows that dinosaurs and human beings never co-existed. 

The information inside the dashes is off-topic. Take it out, and the sentence 
makes sense. The material inside the dashes relates to the information in the 
rest of the sentence, but it acts as an interruption to the main point that 
you’re making. 

Second job: The dash turns something general into something specific, or it 
introduces a definition. Check out the following examples: 

1 think I have everything 1 need for the first day of camp — bug spray, hair 
spray, sun block, and DVD player. 

Everything I need is general; bug spray, hair spray, sun block, and DVD 
player is specific. 

Goggle said that he would perform the ugu-ug-ba — the ritual unwrapping 
of the season’s first piece of chewing gum. 

The definition of ugu-ug-ba is the ritual unwrapping of the season’s first 
piece of chewing gum. 

Grammatically, you may use dashes for the two reasons I just explained. 

There are many more reasons not to use a dash: 

u* Don’t use a dash to replace a period at the end of a sentence. 
v* Don’t use a dash to indicate that someone is speaking. 

Don’t use a dash to separate items in a list. 

Don’t use a dash inside a word. (To divide a word, use a hyphen, which 
is a shorter line.) 

Here are some examples: 

WRONG: With infinite slowness he raised his hand — he lifted an arm and 
tore off the bandage — he stood up. 

RIGHT: With infinite slowness he raised his hand. He lifted an arm and 
tore off the bandage. He stood up. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: The three complete thoughts are now expressed as 
three complete sentences. 




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Chapter 15: Adding InfermatitHi^cSemieolons, Dashes, and Colons 201 



WRONG: — I’m alive. I’m alive! 

RIGHT: “I’m alive. I’m alive!” 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: Quoted material should be placed inside quotation 
marks. 



WRONG: When I grow up I’m going to become president — climb 
Mt. Everest — travel to Mars. 

RIGHT: When I grow up I’m going to become president, climb Mt. Everest, 
and travel to Mars. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: Commas separate the items in the list, not dashes. 



Try reading the paragraph about Zangfroid aloud. 

Zangfroid went to Ye Olde Doughnut Shoppe — he likes coconut 
twists — and plunked down five dollars — the cost of a dozen. The 
clerk — not a fan of doughnuts himself but working his way through 
journalism school — frowned. “Are you sure you want to eat those 
greasy globs — not that there’s anything wrong with that — and raise 
your cholesterol level? Are you aware of the ingredients — oil, fat, a 
little more oil, and sugar? 



Do you notice how choppy it sounds? Every time you hit a dash, your voice 
probably changes. It’s almost as though you were interrupting yourself. (I 
don’t know your friends, but if they’re like mine, they do enough interrupting 
to take care of all of us. I don’t have to add any interruptions of my own.) 




Dashes are tempting because they flow easily out of your mind and onto the 
paper. They seem to be the ideal punctuation mark. Got a new idea? Dash it 
in. Need to explain something that’s vague? Dash into a definition. Tired of 
those old, boring punctuation marks? Try the new, improved dash! 

Dashes may be fun to write, but they’re not fun to read. Used legally (accord- 
ing to the laws of grammar), dashes are fine. For a little change of pace dash a 
new idea into your sentence. Just don’t dash in too often! 

Is the following sentence legal or grounds for arrest by the grammar police? 

Smiling broadly and brushing his long ears with one paw, the rabbit — 
yes, there really is a rabbit — hurried down the rabbit hole. 



Answer: Legal. This sentence makes sense without the information inside the 
dashes. The information inside the dashes is a change of topic, but not a 
completely unrelated idea. 



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202 Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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Here’s another. Is this sentence legal or grounds for arrest by the grammar 
police? 

The sweet sounds of a thousand tubas wafted through the air — she fell 
asleep. 

Answer: If you said legal, you get five to ten in the punctuation penitentiary. 
You need a period after air because The sweet sounds of a thousand tubas 
wafted through the air is a complete sentence. She fell asleep is also a com- 
plete sentence. You may not connect two complete sentences with a dash. 
The correct sentence reads 

The sweet sounds of a thousand tubas wafted through the air. She fell 
asleep. 



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Chapter 16 



CAPITAL LETTERS 



In This Chapter 

Referring to titles of people, family members, and the Deity 

Giving directions and naming areas of the country, seasons of the year, and other times 
Capitalizing school courses and subjects and the titles of creative works 
Writing eras, events, and abbreviations 
Capitalizing lines of poetry 



fortunately, the rules for capital letters are easy. Here are the basics: 



Begin every sentence with a capital letter. (See Chapter 5.) 
v 0 Capitalize/. (See Chapter 10.) 

Begin quotations with a capital letter, unless you’re jumping to the 
middle of a quotation. (See Chapter 13.) 

The rest of this chapter covers a few of the stickier points about 
capitalization. 



Capitalizing (or Mot) References 
to People 

If human beings were content to be called only by their names, life would be 
much simpler, at least in terms of capital letters. Unfortunately, most people 
pick up a few titles as they journey through life. Even more unfortunately, 
along with the titles come rules for capitalization. In this section I tell you 
what’s up (up as in upper case, or capital letters) when you refer to people. 



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Addressing Chief boqcatcher and 
other officials 

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Ms. Woods, Chief Grammarian Woods, and 
Apostrophe-Hater-in-Chief Woods (see Chapter 12). Notice the capitals? All 
these titles start with what kindergarten kids call “the big letters” because 
they’re attached to the front of my name. In a sense, they’ve become part of 
my name. 

Allow me to introduce my friend Eggworthy. He’s Mr. Eggworthy Henhuff, 
director of poultry at a nearby farm. Next year Director of Poultry Henhuff 
plans to run for state senator, unless the vegetarian-voting block opposes his 
candidacy. Eggworthy may then settle for a nomination to the office of sheriff 

Now what’s going on with the capitals? The title Mr. is capitalized because it’s 
attached to Eggworthy’s last name. Other titles — state senator and sheriff — 
are not. In general, write titles that aren’t connected to a name in lower case, 
or what the kindergarten kids call “small letters.” 

Notice that Director of Poultry is capitalized when it precedes Eggworthy’s 
last name but not capitalized when it follows Eggworthy’s name. Director of 
Poultry Henhuff functions as a unit. If you were talking to Eggworthy, you 
might address him as Director of Poultry Henhuff . So the first Director of 
Poultry in the paragraph above functions as part of the name. When the title 
follows the name, it gives the reader more information about Eggworthy, but 
it no longer acts as part of Eggworthy’s name. Hence, the second director of 
poultry in the paragraph above is in lower case. 




No self-respecting rule allows itself be taken for granted, so this capitalization 
rule has an exception or two, just to make sure that you’re paying attention. 
You must capitalize very important titles even when they appear without the 
name of the person who holds them. What’s very important? Definitely these: 



u 0 President of the United States 
u 0 Secretary-General of the United Nations 
u 0 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 
u 0 Vice President of the United States 
u 0 Prime Minister of Great Britain 



Here’s an example of one of these titles, President of the United States, in 
action: 



The President of the United States addressed the nation tonight. In her 

address, the President called for the repeal of all illogical grammar rules. 
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www \A/3tnht\/«itnnm?Crlli9ptGr 16. CAPITAL LETTERS 205 



Of course, there’s some leeway with the rule on titles, with the boss or editor 
or teacher making the final decision. (When in doubt, check with the author- 
ity in question.) The following titles are often but not always lower case when 
they appear without a name: 

u 0 senator 
u 0 representative 
u 0 ambassador 
v 0 consul 
u 0 justice 

v 0 cabinet secretary 
u 0 judge 
v 0 sheriff 

Nameless titles that are even lower on the importance ladder are strictly 
lower case: 




assistant secretary 
v 0 dogcatcher-in-chief 
v 0 officer 
v 0 ensign 

When capitalizing a hyphenated title, capitalize both words (Chief Justice) or 
neither (assistant secretary). One exception (sigh) to the rule is for exes and 
elects: 

u 0 ex-President 
President-elect 



Writing about (amity relationships 

It’s not true that Legghorn’s grandma was imprisoned for felonious vocab- 
ulary. I know for a fact that Uncle Bart took the rap, although Legghorn’s 
brother Alfred tried desperately to convince Grandma to make a full con- 
fession. “My son deserves to do the time,” said Grandma, “because he 
split an infinitive when he was little and got away with it.” 

What do you notice about the family titles in the preceding paragraph? Some 
of them are capitalized, and some are not. The rules for capitalizing the titles 
of family members are simple/.vi^y^lrb/§ahDelmg)anrelative, don’t capitalize. 




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(I’m talking about kinship — aunt, sister, son, and so on — not appearance or 
personality flaws — tubby, sweet-face, dishonest, and so on.) If the titles take 
the place of names (as in Uncle Bart), capitalize them. For example: 

Lulu’s stepsister Sarah took care to pour exactly one cup of ink into every 
load of wash that Lulu did. ( stepsister = label, not a name in this sentence) 

Sarah’s motivation was clear when she told Mother about the gallon of 
paint thinner that Lulu had tipped over Sarah’s favorite rose bush. 

( Mother = name, not a label in this sentence) 

I was surprised when my father took no action; fortunately Aunt Aggie 
stepped in with a pail of bleach for Lulu. ( father — label; Aunt Aggie — 
name in this sentence) 

If you can substitute a real name — Mabel or Jonas, for example — in the sen- 
tence, you probably need a capital letter: 

I told Father that he needed to shave off his handlebar moustache and 
put it on his bicycle, (original sentence) 

I told Jonas that he needed to shave off his handlebar moustache and put 
it on his bicycle. (The substitution sounds fine, so capitalize Father :) 

If the substitution sounds strange, you probably need lower case: 

I told my grandmother that she should definitely not shave off her mous- 
tache for any reason, (original sentence) 

I told my Mabel that she should definitely not shave off her moustache 
for any reason. (The substitution doesn’t work because you don’t say my 
Mabel. Use lower case for grandmother.) 

The word my and other possessive pronouns (your, his, her, our, their) often 
indicate that you should lowercase the title. (For more information on pos- 
sessive pronouns, see Chapter 17.) 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Ever since he heard that housework causes acute inflammation of elbow 
grease, Archie helps mother around the house as little as possible. 

B. Ever since he heard that housework causes acute inflammation of elbow 
grease, Archie helps Mother around the house as little as possible. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. Mother is used as a name, not a label, so you 
must capitalize it. (Try the Mabel test; it works!) 





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www.watchtvsitcoms.GhiBptcr 1 6i CAPITAL LETTERS 207 



Capitalizing the Deity 

Okay, technically a divine being isn’t a person per se, but words referring to 
God still require a special capitalization rule. Traditionally, believers capital- 
ize all words that refer to the being they worship, including pronouns. Look 
at this line from a famous hymn: 

God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. 

On the other hand, you capitalize mythological gods only when giving their 
names: 

The Greeks offered tributes of wine to their gods, but the most lasting 
tribute is the collection of stories immortalizing their names. Who is not 
familiar with the stories of Zeus, Hermes, Hera, and other deities? 

Capitalizing Geography: Directions , 
Places, ana Languages 

If you are a world traveler, you deal with capitalization and geography every 
day. But even if nothing more than your imagination leaves the living room, 
you still need to know the rules for capitalizing the names of places, lan- 
guages, geographical features, regions, and directions. Here’s a complete 
guide to capitalizing geography. 



Directions amt areas of a country 

Alice and Archie, my parakeets, don’t migrate for the winter. (Instead, they 
sit on the window frame and squawk at their friends, the pigeons of New 
York.) If they did fly away, though, where would they go — south or South? It 
depends. The direction of flight is south (lower case). The area of the country 
where they work on a tan, grow a few new feathers, and generally enjoy them- 
selves is the South (upper case). Got it? From New York City you drive west 
to visit the West (or the Midwest). 

The names of other, smaller areas are often capitalized too. Plopped in the 
center of New York City is Central Park, which the West Side and the East Side 
flank. Chicago has a South Side and London has Bloomsbury. Note the capital 
letters for areas of the city. 



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2 08 No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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Capitalizing geographic features 

Capitalize locations within a country when the proper name is given (the 
name of a city or region, for example). Be sure to capitalize the entire name. 
Here are some examples: 

u 0 Mississippi River 
v 0 the Pyrenees 
u 0 Los Angeles 
v 0 the Congo 

Is the part of the name? Usually not, even when it’s hard to imagine the name 
without it. In general, don’t capitalize the. 

When the name doesn’t appear, lowercase geographical features: 

v 0 mountain 
u 0 valley 
u 0 gorge 
u 0 beach 



An exception to the rule on countrg names 

In general, you should capitalize the names of countries and languages. One 
exception to this rule: A few countries have kindly lent their names to common 
objects: french fries, scotch whiskey, Venetian blinds, and so forth. By attaching 
itself to a common object, the language or country name takes on a new mean- 
ing. The name no longer makes the reader think of the country or language. 
Instead, the reader simply thinks of an everyday object. In situations such as 
this, the country or language name loses its capital letter. For example: 

The people of France speak French, but they eat french fries. (The expres- 
sion french fries refers to common objects, associated more with fast food 
outlets than with the country of France.) 

I love French food. (Now French refers to the country, not to a common 
object.) 

The people of China have probably never heard of Chinese checkers. (The 
expression Chinese checkers refers to a game, not to the country of China.) 

I love Chinese food. (Now Chinese refers to the country.) 

Do Turks dry themselves with turkish towels? (The expression turkish 
towels refers to the country of Turkey.) 





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If you’re not sure whether or not to capitalize the geographical part of a 
common item, use a capital letter. 

Correct the capitalization in this paragraph. 

When Alex sent his little brother Abner to Italy, Abner vowed to visit 
mount Vesuvius. Alex asked Abner to bring back some Venetian blinds, 
but Abner returned empty-handed. “Let’s go out for Chinese food,” said 
Abner when he returned. “Some sesame noodles will cheer me up.” 



Here is the answer, with explanations in parentheses: 

When Alex sent his little brother Abner to Italy (correct — country 
name), Abner vowed to visit Mount Vesuvius (capitalize the entire name 
of the mountain). Alex asked Abner to bring back some Venetian blinds 
(correct — lower case for the name of a common object), but Abner 
returned empty-handed. “Let’s go out for Chinese food (because this isn’t 
the name of one specific item, such as french fries, capitals are better),” 
said Abner when he returned. “Some sesame noodles will cheer me up.” 



Tackling race and ethnicity 

If you come from Tasmania, you’re Tasmanian. If you come from New York, 
you’re a New Yorker. (Don’t ask me about Connecticut; I’ve never been able to 
get an answer, though I’ve asked everyone I know from that state.) 

Those examples of capitalization are easy. But what about race and ethnicity? 
As the names change, so do the grammar books. But grammar authorities are 
always a little behind on this topic. Like everyone else, grammarians struggle 
to overcome the legacy of a racist society and its language. Here are some 
guidelines concerning capitalization and race: 

u 0 White and Black (or white and black) are acceptable, but be consistent. 
Don’t capitalize one and not the other. Always capitalize Asian because 
the term is derived from the name of a continent. 

u 0 European American, Asian American, African American (and the less 
popular Afro-American) are all in capitals. 

u 0 Mexican American, Polish American, and other descriptions of national 
origin are written with capital letters because the terms are derived from 
country names. 

v 0 To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question. Afro-American is 
generally written with a hyphen. As for terms such as Asian American, 
Mexican American, African American, and the like, the answer depends 
on your politics. Witho^^^^^^^can is the primary word, 
described by the word that precedes it. So without the hyphen, you 
emphasize the identity of American. With the hyphen, both words are 
equal, so both parts of the identity have equal importance. 




210 Part HI: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

^ ^ www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

Marking Seasons and Other Times 

Lochness hates the summer because of all the tourists who try to snap 
pictures of what he calls “an imaginary monster.” He’s been known to 
roar something about “ winter’s peaceful mornings, ” even though he never 
wakes up before 3 p.m. 

After reading the preceding example, you can probably figure out this rule 
without me. Write the seasons of the year in lower case, as well as the times 
of day. The only exception is in poetry, but everyone knows that poets make 
up their own rules, so those exceptions don’t count. 

I have good news and bad news about the abbreviations for morning and 
afternoon — a.m. and p.m. Some books tell you to capitalize them (A.M. and 
P.M.) and some specify lower case. So no matter what you do, half your read- 
ers will think you’re right (the good news) and half will think you’re wrong 
(the bad news). By the way, a.m. stands for ante meridian (when the sun 
hasn’t yet reached its highest point). The other term — p.m. — stands for 
post meridian, when the sun has passed its highest point in the sky. 

The abbreviations for a.m. and p.m. come from Latin, in which ante and post 
mean before and after. 



Schooling: Courses , \lears, and Subjects 

As every student knows, school is complicated. So is the rule concerning the 
capitalization of school-related terms. Don’t capitalize subjects and subject 
areas unless the names refer to a language. Check out these examples: 

; history 
»> science 
v* physics 
mathematics 
v* English 
i> Spanish 

v 0 physical education 
economics 




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www watchtvsitcoms (Clrapter 16: CAPITAL LETTERS 211 



On the other hand, capitalize the titles of courses. Here are some examples: 



u 0 Economics 101 
u 0 Math for Poets 
v 0 Intermediate Chemistry 
Physics for Nuclear Terrorists 
v 0 Spanish Translation and You! 
u 0 The Meaning of the Paper Clip in American History 

The years in school, while interminable and incredibly important, are not 
capitalized. 



seventh grader 
u 0 eighth grader 
v 0 freshman 



v 0 sophomore 
v 0 junior 




u 0 senior 

Correct the capitalization in this paragraph. 

Hurrying to his Chemistry class, Kneejerk slipped on the ice on the very 
first day of his Senior year. He was carrying a small jar of purple crystals, 
which, when added to water, were guaranteed to produce dense, purple 
smoke. Kneejerk wanted to impress the love of his life, Freshman Lilac 
Jones, who had enrolled in history of the ancient world with Professor 
Krater. Lilac’s class, deep in the study of history, never knew the peril 
they had escaped. 



Answer: Here’s the correct version, with the reasons in parentheses: 



Hurrying to his chemistry (don’t capitalize subjects) class, Kneejerk 
slipped on the ice on the very first day of his senior year (never capitalize 
years in school). He was carrying a small jar of purple crystals, which, 
when added to water, were guaranteed to produce dense, purple smoke. 
Kneejerk wanted to impress the love of his life, freshman (never capital- 
ize years in school) Lilac Jones, who had enrolled in History of the 
Ancient World (capitalize course titles) with Professor Krater. Lilac’s 
class, deep in the study of history (this one is correct — lower case for 
subject areas), never knew the peril they had escaped. 



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2/2 Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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Writing Capitals in Book amt Other Titles 

Lochness is hosting a book party to celebrate the publication of his new 
book, I AM NOT A MONSTER. He has postponed the party three times 
because he can’t decide how to capitalize the title. What should he do? 

Actually, he should scrap the book, which consists of 540 pages of unbeliev- 
ably boring detail about his humdrum life. Apart from that issue, here’s what 
Lochness should do: 

u* Capitalize / and Monster. I is always upper case and Monster is an impor- 
tant word. Also, / is the first word of the title, and the first word of the 
title is always capitalized. 

Capitalize Am because it’s a verb, and verbs are at the heart of the title’s 
meaning. (See Chapter 2.) 

v 0 Capitalize Not because it changes the meaning of the verb and thus has 
an important job to do in the sentence. 

v 0 Lowercase the only word left — a. Never capitalize articles (a, an, and 
the) unless they’re the first words in the title. 

Do you see the general principles that I’ve applied? Here is a summary of the 
rules for all sorts of titles: 



v 0 Capitalize the first word in the title. 
u 0 Capitalize verbs and other important words. 

Lowercase unimportant words. 

The problem, of course, is deciding what is important and what is unimpor- 
tant. Authorities vary. (See the sidebar on manuals of style at the end of this 
chapter.) In the following list, I summarize the general principles for deciding 
what’s important and unimportant (for words that aren’t at the beginning of 
t tie title): 

u* Lowercase articles (a, an, the ). 

is 0 Lowercase conjunctions, the connecting words (and, or, but, nor, for). 

In general, lowercase prepositions. Some style manuals say that you 
should capitalize long prepositions — those with more than four letters. 
Others tell you to lowercase all prepositions, even the huge ones (con- 
cerning, according to, and so on). See Chapter 9 for a list of common 
prepositions. 



Bottom line: Check with your immediate authority (editor, boss, teacher, 

and so on) to make sure that you write in the style to which he or she is 
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accustomed. 




WWW .watnhtvsitmm<dl9pter 16l CAPITAL LETTERS 213 




When writing the title of a magazine or newspaper, should you capitalize the 
word the? Yes, if the is part of the official name, as in The New York Times. No, 
if the publication doesn’t include the in its official name, as in the Daily News. 

Which words should you capitalize in these titles? 

the importance of being lochness 
romeo and lulu 



slouching towards homework 



Answers: 



The Importance of Being Lochness ( The is the first word of the title. 
Importance, Being, and Lochness are important words. Lowercase of 
because it’s not an important word.) 

Romeo and Lulu ( Romeo is the first word of the title and is also a name. 
Similarly, Lulu is a name. Lowercase and because it’s not an important 
word.) 

Slouching Towards Homework ( Slouching is the first word of the title. 
Homework is important. Towards can go either way. It’s a preposition — 
a relationship word — and thus may be lower case, at least according to 
some grammarians. It’s also a long word, which makes it suitable for capi- 
talization in the opinion of other grammarians.) 



Concerning Historic Capitals: 
Events ana Eras 



Bobo entered her time machine and set the dial for the Middle Ages. 
Because of a tiny glitch in the power supply, Bobo instead ended up right 
in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. Fortunately for Bobo, the 
Industrial Revolution did not involve a real war. Bobo still shudders when 
she remembers her brief stint in the Civil War. She is simply not cut out to 
be a fighter, especially not a fighter in the nineteenth century. On the next 
Fourth of July, Bobo plans to fly the bullet-ridden flag she brought back 
from the Battle of Gettysburg. 

The story of Bobo’s adventures should make the rules concerning the capital- 
ization of historic events and eras easy. Capitalize the names of specific time 
periods and events but not general words. Hence 



Capitalized: Middle Ages. Industrial Revolution, Civil War, Fourth of July, 
„ T, , , www.wafcntvsitcoms.com 

Battle of Gettysburg 



i > Lowercase: war, nineteenth century 





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Some grammarians capitalize Nineteenth Century because they see it as a spe- 
cific time period. Others say that you should lowercase numbered centuries. 

I prefer to lowercase the century. 

Correct the capitalization in this paragraph. 

Bobo has never met Marie Antoinette, but Bobo is quite interested in the 
French revolution. With her trusty time-travel machine, Bobo tried to 
arrive in the Eighteenth Century, just in time for Bastille Day. However, 
once again she missed her target and landed in the middle of the first 
crusade. 



Answer, with explanations in parentheses: 

Bobo has never met Marie Antoinette, but Bobo is quite interested in the 
French Revolution. (Capitalize the name of a war.) With her trusty time- 
travel machine, Bobo tried to arrive in the eighteenth century, (Optional, 
but most grammarians write numbered centuries in lower case.) just in 
time for Bastille Day. (Correct. Capitalize the names of important days.) 
However, once again she missed her target and landed in the middle of 
the First Crusade. (Capitalize the name of the war.) 



If U Cn Hd Tbs , U Cn Abbreviate 

Faster! Faster! You’re falling behind! Does that message sound familiar? Or am 
I the only one who sees life as an out-of-control train? I suspect that everyone 
occasionally feels the need to speed things up — when listening to a lecture 
on the joys of grammar, for example. 

I can’t cite a historical source, but I suspect that abbreviations stem from the 
need to get-it-over-with-quickly. Why spend eleven letters when two will do 
the job? Why write New York City when you can write N. Y.C. ? 

Why? Well, for several reasons. First of all, you want people to understand 
you. The first time you saw e.g., did you know that it meant for example? If so, 
fine. If not, you probably didn’t understand what the author was trying to say. 
Second, abbreviations clash with formal writing. Formal writing implies 
thought and care, not haste. 

Now that you know why you shouldn’t abbreviate, here’s how to do so 
correctly: 

Capitalize abbreviations for titles and end the abbreviation with a 
period. For example, Mrs. Snodgrass, Rev. Tawkalot, Sen. Veto, 

Jeremiah Jones, Jr., and St. Lucy. 

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www.watchtvsitcomCll®pt6r 16i CAPITAL LETTERS 215 




v* In Britain, omitting the period after Mr, Mrs, and Ms is acceptable. 

u* Capitalize geographic abbreviations when they’re part of a name but 
not when they’re alone. Put a period at the end of the abbreviation: 
Appalachian Mts. or Amazon R., for example. On a map you may write 
mt. (mountain). 

^ The United States Postal Service has devised a list of two-letter state 
abbreviations. Don’t put periods in these abbreviations. Examples: AZ 
(Arizona), CO (Colorado), WY (Wyoming), and so on. 

u* Write measurements in lower case and end the abbreviation with a 
period. (Metric abbreviations are sometimes written without periods.) 
For example: 

• yds. (yards) 

• ft. (foot or feet) 

• lbs. (pounds) 

• km (kilometer) 

• cm (centimeter) 

• g (gram) 




Don’t confuse abbreviations with acronyms. Abbreviations generally chop 
some letters out of a single word. Acronyms are new words made from the 
first letters of each word in a multi-word title. Some common acronyms 
include the following: 



NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization 

OPEC: Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries 

AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome 



You generally write abbreviations with periods, but acronyms without periods. 




Want to drive your teacher crazy? Write a formal essay with &, w/, w/o, or 
b/c. (For the abbreviation-deprived, & means and, w/ means with, w/o means 
without, b/c means because .) These symbols are fine for your notes but not 
for your finished product. 

Correct Legghorn’s homework. 

Yesterday (Tues.) I went in the a.m. to CO. I saw Mr. Pimple, who told me 
that the EPA had outlawed his favorite pesticide. I have three gal. in the 
basement, & I’ll have to discard it. 



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Answer: 

(Tuesday) I went in the morning to Colorado. I saw Mr. Pimple, who told 
me that the EPA had outlawed his favorite pesticide. I have three gallons 
in the basement, and I’ll have to discard it. 

Explanation: Don’t abbreviate in homework assignments except for titles 
(Mr. Pimple) and easily understood acronyms (EPA, or Environmental 
Protection Agency). If this had been a note to a friend, however, the abbrevia- 
tions would have been perfectly acceptable. 



Giving the Last Word to the Poet 

One summer’s morn 
Upon the lawn 
Did Legghorn cry, 

“Forlorn! Forlorn 
Am I and so shall sigh 
Until I die. Goodbye.” 

One of the advantages of poetry is that you can usually convince people that 
your grammar mistakes are artistic choices. (Try it on your teacher, but no 
guarantees.) But poetry does have a system of rules for capital letters: 

In formal poems you usually capitalize the first word of each line. 

Regardless of where you are in the line, begin a new sentence with a cap- 
ital letter. 

u* In quoting poetry, capitalize everything the poet capitalized. Put a slash 
to show where a line ends. 



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WWW watnhtvsitmmfCrhftptGr 1 6l CAPITAL LETTERS 2/7 



What this year's comma is wearing: 
Manuals of style 



Not quite as exciting as a designer's collection 
are fashions in grammar. Yes, fashions. A comma 
here, a comma there. A period on one side of the 
Atlantic but not on the other. Capital letters for 
the abbreviation of a few centuries and then low- 
ercase. 

In this whirl of changing grammar rules, how 
can conscientious writers be sure that they're 
in style? Easy. Just check a manual. Many insti- 
tutions publish manuals of style; each manual 
lists the institution's preferences for punctua- 
tion, capitalization, citation, and a whole other 
list of -af/onsthat you've never heard of. All you 
have to do is checkthe indexto find the answer 
to your grammatical dilemma. (You'd have to be 
institutionalized if you sat down and read the 



whole thing. Boring doesn't even begin to 
describe them, but they are good for reference.) 

Your teacher/boss/editor (whoever's judging 
your writing) will be able to tell you which 
manual of style he or she prefers. Then you 
know that your work will be in fashion, or at 
least in the fashion that your particular author- 
ity figure likes. 

A few popular manuals of style are the Modern 
Language Association (MLA) Handbook for 
Writers of Research Papers (Modern Language 
Association of America), The Chicago Manual 
of Style (The University of Chicago Press), and 
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage 
(Crown). 



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218 Part III: No Garage, but Plenty of Mechanics 

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Polishing Without 
Wax— The Finer 
Points of Grammar 



The 5 th Wave By Rich Tennant 




“OKa^ people , remember - vjWn writing 
gour extortion letters, place ike 
pronoun close 

ensure clarittj. " 





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In this part . . . 

T hink of this part of the book as sandpaper — a set of 
scratchy, annoying rules that rub the rough edges off 
of your writing. After you polish a paragraph according to 
the information in this part, the finished product will have 
the correct pronouns (Chapter 17), the appropriate verb 
tense (Chapter 18), and no misplaced descriptions 
(Chapter 19). All of your comparisons will be logical and 
complete (Chapter 20), and none of your sentences will be 
unbalanced (Chapter 21). For the finer points of grammar, 
read on. 



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Chapter 17 

Pronouns and Their Cases 



In This Chapter 

► Choosing the correct pronoun as subject and understanding compound subjects and 
appositives 

Selecting the right pronoun for a comparison 

► Finishing linking verb sentences with the correct pronoun 

* Using the proper object pronoun and showing possession with pronouns 

► Choosing the correct pronoun for some nouns ending in -ing 



#^dgar Rice Burroughs’ famous character Tarzan is a smart fellow. Not only 
Mean he survive in the natural world, but he also teaches himself a fair- 
sized English vocabulary, saves his beloved Jane from quicksand, and — when 
he travels to England — learns how to tie his shoelaces. Despite all these 
accomplishments, one task trips him up. He never seems to grasp pronoun- 
verb pairs. “Me Tarzan, you Jane,” he says over and over. “I am Tarzan” is 
apparently beyond him. 

Millions of suffering grammar students know exactly how Tarzan feels. 
Choosing the correct pronoun is enough to give even a thirteen-year-old a 
few gray hairs. (I have a whole section on my head from the who/whom 
issue.) But there’s actually a logic to pronouns, and a few tips go a long way 
toward making your choices more obvious. In this chapter I cover the three 
sets, or cases, of pronouns — subject, object, and possessive. So grab a vine 
and swing into the jungle of pronouns. 

Me Like Tarzan: Choosing Subject 
Pronouns 

The subject is the person or thing that is talked about in the sentence. (For 
more on locating the subject, see Chapter 4.) You can’t do much wrong when 
you have the actual name (pfrThing as the subject — in 

other words, a noun — but pronouns are another story. 




222 



Part IV: Polishing Without Wax — The Finer Points of Grammar 

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A subject pronoun is said to be in the nominative case. 

Legal subject pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, and whoever. 
If you want to avoid a grammatical felony, stay away from me, him, her, us, 
them, whom, and whomever when you’re selecting a subject. 

Here are some examples of pronouns as the subject of a sentence: 



/ certainly did tell Lulu not to remove her nose ring in public! (/ is the 
subject of the verb did tell.') 

Agwamp and she will bring the killer bees to the next Unusual Pets 
meeting. ( She is the subject of the verb will bring.) 

Whoever marries Ludwig next should negotiate a good prenuptial 
agreement. (Whoever is the subject of the verb marries.) 



Compounding interest: Pairs of subjects 

Most people do okay with one subject, but sentences with two subjects are a 
different story. For example, I often hear my otherwise grammatically correct 
students say such things as 

Him and me are going to the supermarket for some chips. 

Although her and / haven’t met, we plan to have dinner soon. 

See the problem? In the first sample sentence, the verb are going expresses 
the action. To find the subject, ask who or what are going. The answer right 
now is him and me are going, but him and me aren’t subject pronouns. Here’s 
the correct version: 

He and / are going to the supermarket for some carrots and celery. 

(I couldn’t resist correcting the nutritional content too.) 

In the second sample sentence, the action — the verb — is have met. (Not 
isn’t part of the verb.) Who or what have met? The answer, as it is now, is 
her and /. / is a legal subject pronoun, but her is not. The correct version is 
as follows: 




Although she and I haven’t met, we plan to have dinner soon. 

Pairs or even larger groups of subjects are called compound subjects. Each of 
the preceding sample sentences includes a compound subject. 



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www.watc iCfoafKter. d7ei Pronouns and Their Cases 




One good way to check your pronouns is to look at each one separately. If 
you’ve developed a fairly good ear for proper English, isolating the pronoun 
helps you decide whether you’ve chosen correctly. You may have to adjust 
the verb a bit when you’re speaking about one subject instead of two, but the 
principle is the same. If the pronoun doesn’t sound right as a solo subject, it 
isn’t right as part of a pair either. Here is an example: 



ORIGINAL SENTENCE: Ludmilla and her went to the spitball-shooting con- 
test yesterday. 

CHECK 1: Ludmilla went to the spitball-shooting contest yesterday. 
Verdict: sounds okay. 

CHECK 2: Her went to the spitball-shooting contest yesterday. Verdict: 
sounds terrible. Substitute she. 

CHECK 3: She went to the spitball-shooting contest yesterday. Verdict: 
much better. 




RECOMBINED, CORRECTED SENTENCE: Ludmilla and she went to the 
spitball-throwing contest yesterday. 

Which sentence is correct? 






A. Mudbud, you, and me appointed the judges for the spitball-shooting 
contest, so we have to live with their decisions, however wrong. 



B. Mudbud, you, and I appointed the judges for the spitball-shooting con- 
test, so we have to live with their decisions, however wrong. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct, / is a subject pronoun, and me is not. If you 
take the parts of the subject separately, you can hear the correct answer. 



Attracting appositit/es 

Do you want to say the same thing twice? Use an appositive. An appositive is 
a noun or a pronoun that is exactly the same as the noun or pronoun that 
precedes it in the sentence. Check out these examples: 

Raven, the girl whose hair matches her name, is thinking of changing her 
name to Goldie. 

Tee Rex, holder of the coveted Dinosaur of the Year trophy, has signed an 
endorsement deal with a company that makes extra-large sneakers. 

Lochness, the Spy of the Month, will hold a press conference tomorrow at 
10 a.m. 

Lola, a fan of motorcyc|^ w ^^g^^^ c ^t life in the fast lane is some- 
times hard on the complexion. 




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Part IV: Polishing Without Wax — The Finer Points of Grammar 

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Do you see the pair of matching ideas in each sentence? In the first, Raven 
and the girl whose hair matches her name are the same. In the next sentence, 
Tee Rex and holder of the coveted Dinosaur of the Year trophy make a pair. In 
the third, the Spy of the Month is the same as Lochness. In the last sentence, 
Lola and a fan of motorcycles are the same. The second half of each pair ( the 
girl whose hair matches her name, holder of the coveted Dinosaur of the Year 
trophy, the Spy of the Month, and a fan of motorcycles) is an appositive. 

Appositives fall naturally into most people’s speech and writing, perhaps 
because human beings feel a great need to explain themselves. You probably 
won’t make a mistake with an appositive unless a pronoun or a comma is 
involved. (See Chapter 25 for more information on appositives and commas.) 

Pronouns can serve as appositives, and they show up mostly when you have 
two or more people or things to talk about. Here are some sentences with 
appositives and pronouns: 

The winners of the raffle — Ali and he — will appear on the Tonight Show 
tomorrow. (Appositive = Ali and he) 

The judges for the spitball contest, Saliviata and she, wear plastic rain- 
coats. (Appositive — Saliviata and she) 

The dancers who broke their toenails, Lulu and I, will not appear in the 
closing number. (Appositive = Lulu and I) 




Why are he, she and / correct? In these sample sentences, the appositives are 
paired with the subjects of the sentence ( winners , judges, dancers). In a sense, 
the appositives are potential substitutes for the subject. Therefore, you must 
use a subject pronoun. 

The appositive pronoun must always match its partner; if you pair it with a 
subject, the appositive must be a subject pronoun. If you pair it with an 
object, it must be an object pronoun. 

You can confirm pronoun choice with the same method that I describe in the 
previous section. Take each part of the pair (or group) separately. Adjust the 
verb if necessary, and then listen to the sentence. Here’s the check for one of 
the sentences that I used earlier: 



CHECK 1: The judges for the spitball contest wear plastic raincoats. 
Verdict: sounds okay. 

CHECK 2: Saliviata wears plastic raincoats. (You have to adjust the verb 
because Saliviata is singular, not plural, but the pronoun sounds okay.) 

CHECK 3: She wears plastic raincoats. (Again, you have to adjust the 
verb, but the pronoun sounds okay.) 

Bottom line: IsolatMh.^/iiEfiWgltiQn^gblftSten. If it sounds fine, it probably is. 




www wat cQhapterl^j Prononns and Their Cases 



Picking pronouns for comparisons 

Lazy people that we are, we all tend to take shortcuts, chopping words out of 
our sentences and racing to the finish. This practice is evident in compar- 
isons. Read the following sample sentences: 

Lulu denied that she had more facial hair than he. 

That sentence really means 

Lulu denied that she had more facial hair than he had. 

If you say the entire comparison, as in the preceding example, the pronoun 
choice is a cinch. However, when you drop the verb (had), you may be 
tempted to use the wrong pronoun, as in this sentence: 

Lulu denied that she had more facial hair than him. 

Sounds right, doesn’t it? But the sentence is wrong. The words you say must 
fit with the words you don’t say. Obviously you aren’t going to accept 

Lulu denied that she had more facial hair than him had. 




Him had is just too gross. The technical reason? Him is an object pronoun, 
but you’re using it as the subject of had. 

Whenever you have an implied comparison — a comparison that the sen- 
tence suggests but doesn’t state completely — finish the sentence in your 
head. The correct pronoun becomes obvious. 

Implied comparisons often contain the word than (as in the preceding sample 
sentences). The words so and as are also frequently part of an implied 
comparison: 



The sponges that Legghorn grew do not sop up so much moisture as 
they. 

Eggworthy gave Ludwig as much trouble as her. 

Ratrug, live in concert on Broadway, is as entertaining as she. 

The complete comparisons are as follows: 



The sponges that Legghorn grew do not sop up so much moisture as 
they do. 

Eggworthy gave Ludwig as much trouble as Eggworthy gave her. 

.. . www.watchtvsitc.oms.com . . , 

Ratrug, live in concert on Broadway, is as entertaining as she is. 




226 Part IV: Polishing Without WaxvrwalhtesFiner (Points of Grammar 

In some incomplete comparisons more than one word is missing. For example: 
Grandmother gives my sister more souvenirs than me. 
means 

Grandmother gives my sister more souvenirs them Grandmother gives to 
me, because my sister is a spoiled brat and is always flattering the old bat. 

and 

Grandmother gives my sister more souvenirs than I. 




means 



Grandmother gives my sister more souvenirs than I do because I have 
better things to do with my allowance. 




Think before you make a decision, because the pronoun choice determines 
the meaning of the sentence. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Tee Rex broke more claws than I during the fight with Godzilla. 

B. Tee Rex broke more claws than me during the fight with Godzilla. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. Read the sentence this way: Tee Rex broke 
more claws than / did during the fight with Godzilla. You can’t say me did. 



Last one! Which is correct? 



A. Lochness told me more atomic secrets than she. 

B. Lochness told me more atomic secrets than her. 

Answer: Both are correct, depending on the situation. Sentence A means that 
Lochness told me more atomic secrets than she told me. Sentence B means 
that Lochness told me more atomic secrets than he told her. 



Connecting pronouns to linking Verbs 

Think of linking verbs as giant equal signs, equating two halves of the sen- 
tence. All forms of the verb to be are linking verbs, as well as verbs such as 
seem, appear, smell, sound, and taste. The type of pronoun that begins the 
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www.watchtvsQfiypijgfn^: Pronouns and Their Cases 227 



equation (the subject) must also be the type of pronoun that finishes the 
equation. (For more information on finding linking verbs and the pronouns 
that go with them, see Chapter 2.) In this section, I talk about pairs of subject 
pronouns with linking verbs. Looking at pairs of words is helpful because 
choosing pronouns for compound subjects is always hard. Check out this 
sentence: 

The new champions, who spelled “sassafras” correctly for the first and 
only time, are him and me. 

Correct or incorrect? Here’s how to check. Think of the equal sign (the linking 
verb). If the pronouns are correct, you should be able to reverse the sen- 
tence. After all, 2 + 2 = 4 and 4 = 2 + 2. 

If I reverse the preceding sample sentence, I get 

Him and me are the new champions who spelled “sassafras” correctly for 
the first and only time. 

Uh oh. Him and me are. Not a good idea. What would you really say? He and I 
are. So go back to the original sentence. Change the pronouns. Now the sen- 
tence reads 



The new champions, who spelled “sassafras” correctly for the first and 
only time, are he and I. 




In conversation, many people ignore the reversibility rule and choose an 
object pronoun. In conversation you can get away with such a choice, but in 
formal writing the rules are tighter. If you have a linking verb followed by a 
pronoun, choose from the subject set. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The students voted “Most Likely to Go to Jail Before Graduation” are 
Lizzy and I. 

B. The students voted “Most Likely to Go to Jail Before Graduation” are 
Lizzy and me. 



Answer: In formal English, sentence A is correct. Reverse the sentence: Lizzy 
and I are the students voted “Most Likely to Go to Jail Before Graduation.” 
Verdict: Fine. If you reverse sentence B, you get Lizzy and me are. This phras- 
ing is not a good idea, though it is acceptable in conversational English. (See 
Chapter 1 for more information on formal and conversational English.) 



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228 Part IV: Polishing Without Wa^^ffti^Fifm^Pimits of Grammar 



Using Pronouns as Direct and 
Indirect Objects 

Previously in this chapter, I’ve concentrated on subject pronouns, but now 
it’s time to turn to the receiver of the sentence’s action — the object. 
Specifically, it’s time to turn to object pronouns. (For more information on 
finding the object, see Chapter 6.) Pronouns that may legally function as 
objects include me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom, and whomever. Here 
are some examples of direct and indirect object pronouns, all in italics: 

Ticktock smashed him right on the nose for suggesting that “the mouse 
ran down the clock.” ( smashed is the verb; Ticktock is the subject; him is 
the object) 

Archie married us, despite our parents’ objections, in a quadruple ring 
ceremony. ( married is the verb; Archie is the subject; us is the object) 

Olivier, president and chief operating officer of Actors Inc., sent me a hor- 
rifying letter. ( sent is the verb; Olivier is the subject; letter and me are 
objects) 




.O.UIZ 



A direct object receives the action directly from the verb, answering the ques- 
tions whom or what after the verb. An indirect object receives the action indi- 
rectly (clever, those grammar terms), answering the questions to whom or to 
what after the verb. In the previous sample sentence, letter is the direct 
object and me is the indirect object. For more information on direct and indi- 
rect objects, see Chapter 6. 

Which sentence is correct? 



IT 



A. After a great deal of discussion, the principal punished we, the innocent, 
for the small nuclear device that disrupted the cafeteria yesterday. 



B. After a great deal of discussion, the principal punished us, the innocent, 
for the small nuclear device that disrupted the cafeteria yesterday. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. Us is the object of the verb punished. 



Choosing objects for prepositions 

Prepositions — words that express relationships such as about, after, among, 
by, for, behind, since, and others — may also have objects. (For a more com- 
plete list of prepositions, see Chapter 9.) Here are some examples: 



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www.watchtv sflfapfcrl 7: Pronouns and Their Cases 



Pinkworm, fearful for his pet tarantula, gave his dog to us yesterday. 

Jellibelle’s dance solo is a problem for her because she can’t find a suit- 
able costume. 



Legghorn’s latest play received a critical review from them. 




Archibald didn’t like the window so he simply plastered over it. 

Notice that the object word answers the usual object questions (whom? 
what?): 

Pinkworm, fearful for his pet tarantula, gave his dog to whom? Answer: 
to us. 



Jellibelle’s dance solo is a problem for whom? Answer: for her. 

Legghorn’s latest play received a critical review from whom? Answer: 
from them. 



Archibald didn’t like the window, so he simply plastered over what? 
Answer: over it. 




Also notice that all the pronouns — us, him, her, them, it — come from the set 
of object pronouns. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The conversation between Agwamp and I always revolves around 
piano-throwing. 



B. The conversation between Agwamp and me always revolves around 
piano-throwing. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. Between is a preposition. Between whom? 
Between Agwamp and me. Me is one of the objects of the preposition between. 




For some reason, the phrase between you and / has caught on. However, it’s 
time to unhook it! Between is a preposition, so object pronouns follow it. The 
pronoun / is for subjects, and me is for objects. So between you and me, me is 
the word you want. 



Seeing double causes problems 

You’ll probably choose the correct object pronoun when there’s only one in 

the sentence, but compounds (pairs or larger groups), cause problems. The 

solution is fairly easy: Check each part of the compound separately. Your ear 

helps you find the right choice. Here are some examples: 
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230 Part IV: Polishing Without Wato^TthiflJ^^AOts of Grammar 



ORIGINAL SENTENCE: Paris, pleading poverty, presented Perry and me 
with a check for fifteen cents. 

CHECK 1: Paris, pleading poverty, presented Perry with a check for fifteen 
cents. Verdict: The sentence sounds fine. 

CHECK 2: Paris, pleading poverty, presented me with a check for fifteen 
cents. Verdict: The sentence sounds fine. When you isolate the pronoun, 
me is obviously the correct choice. You’re unlikely to accept Paris, plead- 
ing poverty, presented I with a check for fifteen cents. 

Try another one. 

ORIGINAL SENTENCE: Perry, claiming to be far richer than Ted Turner, 
presented the government and he with a billion dollars. 

CHECK 1: Perry, claiming to be far richer than Ted Turner, presented the 
government with a check for a billion dollars. Verdict: The sentence is 
fine. 

CHECK 2: Perry, claiming to be far richer than Ted Turner, presented he 
with a check for a billion dollars. Verdict: presented he? Nope. The sen- 
tence doesn’t work. 

CHECK 3: Perry, claiming to be far richer than Ted Turner, presented him 
with a check for a billion dollars. Verdict: Now the sentence sounds right. 

RECOMBINED SENTENCE: Perry, claiming to be far richer than Ted Turner, 
presented the government and him with a check for a billion dollars. 

Pronouns of Possession: 

No Exorcist Needed 

Possessive pronouns show (pause for a drum roll) possession. Not the movie 
head-twisting-backwards kind, but the kind where you own something. Posses- 
sive pronouns include my, your, his, her, its, our, their, mine, yours, hers, ours, 
theirs, and whose. Check out the following sample sentences: 

Legghorn took his apple out of the refrigerator marked “Open Only in 
Case of Emergency.” 

Sure that the computer had beeped its last beep, Lola shopped for a 
new model. 

To our dismay, Lochness and Lulu opened their birthday presents two 

days early. 

Vengeance is m/jwew.watchtvsitcoms.com 

Lester slapped the dancer whose stiletto heels had wounded Lola’s 
big toe. 




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Slfiapterl 7: Pronouns and Their Cases 





The possessive pronouns in these examples show that the apple belongs to 
Legghorn, the beep belongs to the computer, the dismay belongs to us, and 
the presents belong to Lochness and Lulu. Vengeance belongs to me. ( Mine is 
the possessive pronoun that refers to something I own, something that 
belongs to me.) The last sentence is a little more complicated. The word 
whose refers to the dancer. The stiletto heels belong to the dancer. The big 
toe belongs to Lola, but possession is shown in this example with a posses- 
sive noun (Lola’s) not a possessive pronoun (her). 

Notice that none of the possessive pronouns have apostrophes. They never 
do! Ever! Never ever! Putting apostrophes into possessive pronouns is one of 
the most common errors. (It’s doesn’t mean belongs to it. It’s means it is.) 

Why don’t possessive pronouns have apostrophes? I have no idea. Logically, 
you expect possessive pronouns to have apostrophes, because apostrophes 
show possession for nouns ( Angie’s mug, for example). But logic and gram- 
mar aren’t always friends or even acquaintances, and (as you may have 
noticed) possessive pronouns don’t have apostrophes. Ever. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Smashing the pumpkin on his mother’s clean floor, Rocky commented, 

“I believe this gourd is yours.” 

B. Smashing the pumpkin on his mother’s clean floor, Rocky commented, 

“I believe this gourd is your’s.” 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. No possessive pronoun has an apostrophe, 
and yours is a possessive pronoun. 



beating urith Pronouns and “Ang" Nouns 

The rule concerning possessive pronouns and “-ing” nouns is broken so often 
that it may be a losing battle. However, the rule isn’t completely useless, like 
many of the other rules that people break. Moreover, this rule is actually logi- 
cal. Some nouns that end in -ing are created from verbs. (In grammarspeak, 
they’re called gerunds. See Chapter 24 for more information.) When you put a 
pronoun in front of one of these nouns, you must be sure that the pronoun is 
possessive. Here are some examples: 

Just because I once got a speeding ticket, my parents object to my taking 
the car for even short drives, (not me taking ) 

Lola knows that their creating a dress code has nothing to do with the 
fact that she recentlyApwicc^h^ them creating) 




23 2 Part IV: Polishing Without W^^fHfe v FifiWFP^ts of Grammar 



Eggworthy likes his singing in the shower, (not him singing) 

The goldfish accept our placing food in the tank so long as we don’t try to 
shake their fins, (not us placing) 



Why possessive? Here’s the reasoning. If you put a possessive pronoun in 
front of the noun, the noun is the main idea, Therefore: 



My parents object to the taking of the car. They don’t object to me. 

Lola knows something about the creating of a dress code. She may not 
know anything about them. 

Eggworthy likes the singing. Eggworthy may not like him. 

The goldfish accept placing food. They don’t accept us. 




Some -ing words weren’t created from verbs, and some -ing words aren’t 
nouns. Don’t worry about distinguishing between one and the other. Just 
apply this simple test: You need a possessive if the meaning of the sentence 
changes radically when you drop the -ing word. Check out this example: 

Lochness loves me singing and always invites me to perform at his 
concerts. 



If I drop the -ing word, the sentence says 
Lochness loves me. 



Now there’s a radical change of meaning. Clearly the sentence is incorrect. 
The correct version is 



Lochness loves my singing. 




Now the focus is on singing, not on me. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Stunned by my low batting average, the coach forbade my swinging at 
every pitch. 



B. Stunned by my low batting average, the coach forbade me swinging at 
every pitch. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. The coach went on and on about my swinging 
at every pitch and never mentioned anything about my personal life. (In sen- 
tence B, he’s forbidding me, all of me.) 



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Chapter 18 

Fine-tuning Verbs 

In This Chapter 

► Distinguishing between active and passive voice 

> Choosing the correct verb to describe different events at different times 

> Reporting information with the proper tense 

► Describing ideas that are always true 



#^ave you ever written a letter and then, after reading it, gone back and 
W w crossed out half the words? Do the verbs tie your tongue (well, actually, 
your pen) in knots. Are you constantly editing yourself to avoid verb prob- 
lems. If so, this chapter is for you. 



Giving Voice to Verbs 

Verbs can have two voices. No, not soprano and tenor. Verbs can be either 
active or passive. Take a look at these two examples: 

“The window was broken yesterday,” reported Eggworthy, carefully tuck- 
ing his baseball bat under the sofa. 

“I broke the window yesterday,” reported Eggworthy, carefully tucking his 
baseball bat under the sofa. 

How do the two versions differ? Grammatically, Eggworthy’s statement in ver- 
sion one focuses on the receiver of the action, the window, which received 
the action of breaking. The verb is passive because the subject is not the 
person or thing doing the action but instead the person or thing receiving the 
action. In version two the verb is in active voice because the subject (I) per- 
formed the action (broke). When the subject is acting or being, the verb is 
active. 



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23 4 Part IV: Polishing Without WAT* 1 TMfffifPaihts of Grammar 




To find the subject of a sentence, locate the verb and ask who or what before 
the verb. For more information on subjects, see Chapter 4. For more informa- 
tion on the basics of verbs, see Chapter 2. 

Here are some active and passive verbs: 



Lulu gives a free-tattoo coupon to Lola, (active) 
Lola is convinced by Lulu to get a tattoo, (passive) 
Lochness slaps Lulu, (active) 

Lulu is tattooed by Lola, (passive) 



Making the Better Choice: Active Voice 

Unless you’re trying to hide something or unless you truly don’t know the 
facts, you should make your writing as specific as possible. Specifics reside in 
active voice. Compare these pairs of sentences: 

The president of the Egg-Lovers’ Club was murdered yesterday. (The cops 
are still looking for the villain who wielded the hammer and crushed the 
president’s skull like a . . . well, like an eggshell.) 

Murgatroyd murdered the president of the Egg-Lovers’ Club yesterday. 
(Murgatroyd is on the lam.) 

It is recommended that the furnace not be cleaned until next year. 

(Someone wants to save money, but no one is taking responsibility for this 
action. If the furnace breaks when the thermometer hits twenty below 
because too much glop is inside, no one’s name comes up for blame.) 

The superintendent recommends that the furnace not be cleaned until 
next year. (Now the building’s residents may storm the superintendent’s 
office after they chip icicles off their noses.) 

Do you notice how the active-verb sentences provide extra information? In 
the first pair of sample sentences, we know the name of the murderer. In the 
second pair, we know who recommends deferring maintenance of the fur- 
nace. Knowing (in life as well as in grammar) is usually better than not know- 
ing, and active voice is usually better than passive voice. 

Active voice is also better than passive because active voice uses fewer 
words to say the same thing. Compare the following sentences: 

Murdlock was failed by the teacher because the grammar book was torn 
up by Murdlock v b^<^i t f^^^ < ^^f ^ened. (20 words) 

The teacher failed Murdlock because Murdlock tore up the grammar 
book before opening it. (14 words) 




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Chapter 18: Fine-tuning Verbs 




Okay, six words don’t make the difference between a 900-page novel and a 
three-page story, but those words do add up. If you’re writing a letter or an 
essay, switching from passive to active voice may save you one-third of your 
words — and therefore one-third of the reader’s energy and patience. Right 
about now you may be remembering a past homework assignment: the 
teacher asked for 500 words on Hamlet and you had only one teeny idea 
about the play. You may have thought that padding was a good idea! Wrong. 
Your teacher (or boss) can see that you’ve buried only one teeny idea in 
those piles of paragraphs. Besides losing points for knowing too little, you’re 
likely to lose points for wasting the reader’s time. The solution? Write in 
active voice and don’t pad your writing. 

Label the verbs in these sentences as active or passive. 

A. The omelet was made with egg whites, but the yolks were discarded. 



B. Eggworthy slobbers when he eats eggs. 



Answer: Sentence A is passive (was made, were discarded), and sentence B is 
active ( slobbers , eats ). 



Try one more. Which is active and which is passive? 

A. The nail was hammered into that sign by Lochness. 

B. Lochness is building a tank for his pet piranhas. 

Answer: Sentence A is passive (was hammered), and sentence B is active 
(is building). 



Putting It in Order: Sequence of Tenses 

All verbs express information about three time periods: the present, the past, 
and the future. Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to want more 
specific information about timing. Enter about a million shades of meaning, 
closely followed by about a million rules. 




For information on the basic tenses of verbs, see Chapter 3. In this chapter I 
focus on some special cases — which verbs to use when more than one thing 
is happening. 

To clarify what’s happening when, timelines accompany some of the exam- 
ples in this section. Match the events on the timeline to the verbs in the sen- 
tence to see where in time each tense places an action. 

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236 Part IV: Polishing Without W4M(y™TI1^ of Grammar 

Case 1: Simultaneous events — 
main Verbs 

Look at the italicized verbs in each of these sample sentences: 

Trueheart swiped a handkerchief and daintily blew her noise. ( swiped and 
blew - two events happening at almost the same moment; both verbs are 
in past tense) 

Trueheart will be in court tomorrow, and the judge will rule on her case. 
(will be and will rule = two events happening at the same time; both verbs 
are in future tense) 

Trueheart is extremely sad about the possibility of a criminal record, but 
she remains hopeful, (is and remains = states of being existing at the same 
time; both verbs are in present tense) 

If two actions take place at the same time (or nearly the same time), use the 
same tense for each verb. 



Case 2: Simultaneous events — Verbals 

The verb doesn’t express all the action in a sentence. Some verb forms don’t 
act as the official verb in the sentence; in fact, they don’t act as verbs at all, 
even though they give you some information about an event. These verb 
forms are called verbals. In the following sentences, check out the italicized 
words. The first is a verbal and the second is the main verb. Notice that the 
same verbal matches with present, past, and future verbs and places the two 
actions at the same time or close enough in time to make the difference irrel- 
evant. Also notice that none of the verbals are formed with the words have or 
had. (Have and had help express actions taking place at different times. See 
Case #6 later in this section.) 

Swiping a handkerchief, Trueheart daintily blows her nose. (The swiping 
and the blowing take place at nearly the same time — in the present.) 

Swiping a handkerchief, Trueheart daintily blew her nose. (The swiping 
and the blowing took place at nearly the same time — in the past.) 

Swiping a handkerchief, Trueheart will daintily blow her nose. (The 
swiping and the blowing will take place at nearly the same time — in 
the future.) 

Another variation: 

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To blow her nose daintily, Trueheart swipes a handkerchief. (The blowing 
and the swiping take place at nearly the same time — in the present.) 




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Chapter 18 : Fine-tuning Verbs / 



To blow her nose daintily, Trueheart swiped a handkerchief. (The blowing 
and the swiping took place at nearly the same time — in the past.) 

To blow her nose daintily, Trueheart will swipe a handkerchief. (The 
blowing and the swiping will take place at nearly the same time — in 
the future.) 




Participles are verb forms that may act as adjectives. In the preceding sample 
sentences, swiping is a present participle, and swiping a handkerchief is a 
participial phrase describing Trueheart. The action expressed by the present 
participle takes place at the same time (or nearly the same time) as the 
action expressed by the main verb. For more information on participles, see 
Chapter 24. To blow is an infinitive, the basic form of a verb. Infinitives never 
function as verbs in the sentence. In the previous sample sentences, to blow 
her noise daintily is an infinitive phrase describing Trueheart. For more infor- 
mation on infinitives, see Chapter 2. For tips on using infinitives creatively, 
see Chapter 24. 



Case 3: Events at two different times 
in the past 

Everything in the past happened at exactly the same moment, right? Oh, if only 
this statement were true. History tests would be much easier, and so would 
grammar. Sadly, you often need to talk about events that took place at different 
times in the past. The verb tenses you use create an order of events — a 
timeline — for your reader. Check the italicized verbs in this sentence: 

Trueheart had already swiped the handkerchief when she discovered the 
joys of honesty. 

There are two events to think about, one taking place before the other. 
(Unfortunately for Trueheart, the joy of honesty came after the theft, for 
which she’s doing ten to twenty in the penitentiary.) Note the timeline: 



handkerchief 


joys of 




stolen 

1 


honesty 


NOW 


1 

had swiped 


discovered 


1 



For two events in the past, write the earlier event with had and the more 
recent event in simple past tense (without had). For grammar-lovers only: 
Verbs written with had ar^fc^^l^ense. (See Chapter 3 for defini- 
tions of tenses.) 





238 Part IV: Polishing Without Waw™fh©sFinef (Points of Grammar 

Check out these examples: 

Because of Lulu’s skill with a needle, where a hole in the sock had gaped, 
a perfect heel now enclosed her tender foot. (Event 1: the hole in the sock 
gapes; event 2: the mended sock covers the foot.) 

When Lochness had inserted the microfilm, he sewed the hole in the now 
illegal teddy bear. (Event 1: Lochness inserts the microfilm; event 2: 
Lochness sews the bear.) 

Though she had lost her wallet, Ludmilla kept a tight grip on her sanity. 
(Event 1: Ludmilla loses her wallet; Event 2: Ludmilla does not lose her 
mind.) 

After the song had been played at least twelve times, Legghorn shouted, 
“Enough!” (Event 1: The song is played twelve times; event 2: Legghorn 
loses it.) 

A common error is using had for everything. Wrong! Don’t use had unless 
you’re consciously putting events in order: 

WRONG: Trueheart had dried her eyes, and then she had gone to see the 
judge. 

RIGHT: After Trueheart had dried her eyes, she went to see the judge. 

Also, sometimes you may want to talk about events in the past without wor- 
rying about specific times. You went on vacation, had a great time, sent some 
postcards, ate a lot of junk food, and came home. No need for had in this 
description because the order isn’t the point. You’re just making a general 
list. Use had when the timing matters. Don’t overuse it. 

Note: You may encounter one other use of had, the subjunctive. See 
Chapter 22 if you have to know absolutely everything about had — and 
believe me, you don’t. 

Which sentence tells you about events that happened at different times? 

A. Slipping the judge a fifty-dollar bill, Trueheart hoped for mercy. 

B. Although she had slipped the judge only one fifty-dollar bill, Trueheart 
hoped for mercy. 

Answer: Sentence B reports events at different times. Trueheart tried the 
bribe at 10 a.m. and spent the rest of the day planning a trip to Rio (cancelled 
when her ten-to-twenty-year jail term was announced). In sentence A, 
Trueheart bribes and hopes at the same time. 





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Chapter 18: Fine-tuning Verbs 



239 



One more question. Which sentence reports events happening at two differ- 
ent times? 

A. To prepare for her trial, Trueheart bought a copy of Be Your Own Lawyer! 

B. Trueheart had bought a copy of Be Your Own Lawyer! when the trial 
began. 

Answer: Sentence B has two events, one earlier than the other. The purchase 
of the book ( had boughO happened before the trial (began). In sentence A, 
the two events (to prepare, bought) happen at the same time. 

Case 4 : More than Mo past events, att at 
different times 

This rule is similar to the one described in Case 3. Apply this rule when you 
talk about more than two events in the past: 

Trueheart had baked a cake and had inserted a sharp file under the icing 
before she began her stay in jail. 

Now the timeline is as follows: 



baking 

i 


file 


jail 

l 


NOW 


1 

had baked 


had inserted 


1 

began 





What do you notice? The most recent event (began her stay in jail) is written 
without had. In other words, the most recent event is in simple past tense. 
Everything that happened earlier is written with had — that is, in past perfect 
tense. For more information on tenses, see Chapter 3. 

Here are some examples: 

Murgatroyd had bent his knees and had bowed his head before he shot the 
spitball. (Events 1 and 2: Murgatroyd tries to look respectful. Event 3: 
Murgatroyd shoots the spitball, proving once and for all that he can’t act 
respectfully.) 

Legghorn had planned the shower, and Lola had even planned the wed- 
ding by the time Ludmilla agreed to marry Ludwig. (Events 1 and 2: 

Legghorn and Lola visit theyyedding coordinator. Event 3: Ludmilla 
, . , . Www.watchTvsrfcarns.com 

makes the biggest mistake of her life.) 






24 0 Part IV: Polishing Without W^^flttPtithmffnts of Grammar 



Felonia had composed a sonata, played it for royalty, and signed a record- 
ing contract before she reached her tenth birthday. (Events 1, 2, and 3: 
Felonia writes the music, performs it, and makes big bucks. Event 4: 
Felonia’s mom puts ten candles on the cake.) 




In the last example three verbs — composed, played, and signed — form a list 
of the actions that Felonia performed before her tenth birthday. They all have 
the same subject (Felonia). The word had precedes only composed, the first 
verb of the three. You may omit the word had in front of played and signed 
because they are part of the same list and they all have the same subject. The 
reader knows that the word had applies to all three of the verbs. In other 
words, the reader understands that Felonia had composed, had played, and 
had signed. 

Identify the events in this sentence and put them in order. 

Where patriots had fought and wise founders had written a constitution, 

a fast-food catfish restaurant stood. 



Answer: Events 1 and 2: People with a better idea fight the old government 
and write a plan for a new government. Event 3: In the free and successful 
society that results, someone builds a restaurant after suing the landmarks 
preservation commission for the right to tear down a historic building. 



Case 5 ; Tufo events in the future 

Leaving the past behind, it’s time to turn to the future. Read this sentence: 

Ratrug will have completed all 433 college applications before they are due. 

Ratrug’s applications will be error-filled — he spelled his name Ratrig on at 
least three — but they will be done before the deadline. Deadline is the 
important word here, at least regarding verb tense. The have form of the 
future, also called future perfect tense, involves a deadline. You don’t neces- 
sarily have two verbs in the sentence, but you do have two events: 



Past 

NC 


Future 

)W . applications 

Ratrug works on 1 . 

applications I 




will have completed are 



Use the future perfect tense to talk about the earlier of the two events. 

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Chapter 18: Fine-tuning Verbs 




Here are a few examples: 



Ms. Trueheart will have served all of her sentence before the parole board 
meets. (The deadline in the sentence is the parole board meeting.) 

By nine tonight, Eggworthy will have successfully scrambled the secret 
message. (The deadline in the sentence is nine o’clock.) 




Analivia will have left for Lulu’s trip up Mount Everest by the time the 
mountaineering supply company sends her gear. (The deadline in the 
sentence is the delivery of mountain-climbing supplies.) 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Shakey will have tossed the salad tonight. 



B. Shakey will have tossed the salad out the window before anyone has a 
chance to taste it. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. Future perfect tense involves a deadline, 
which in this sentence is before anyone has a chance to taste it. 



Case 6: Different times, different 
Verb forms 

Remember those weird verb forms from Case 2, earlier in the chapter? The 
verbals? When they express different times, a helping verb (having or have) 
is involved. Check out this sentence: 

Having sealed the letter containing his job application, Nobrain remem- 
bered his name. 



sealing 

l 


remembering 

i 


NOW 


1 

having sealed 


1 

remembered 





In other words, Nobrain’s job application — unless he rips open the 
envelope — is anonymous because the sealing of the letter took place before 
the remembering of his name. 



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242 Part IV: Polishing Without Wa^^ffi^FilteFPohits of Grammar 



Here are additional examples: 

Having finished her homework, Felonia turned on the television to watch 
the oatmeal-wrestling tournament. (Event 1 : Felonia finishes her home- 
work at 2 a.m. Event 2: The tournament begins at 3 a.m. For some reason, 
the networks are reluctant to broadcast the match during prime time.) 

Having won all the votes, Lola named herself “Empress-in-Chief.” (Event 1: 
Lola gets 100 percent of the votes. Event 2: Lola loses her head.) 

Having exhibited the painting in Mudbud’s new gallery, Felonia consid- 
ered herself an all-around artistic genius. (Event 1: Felonia convinces 
Mudbud to hang her Homework Blues still life. Event 2: Felonia adds an 
art link to her Web page.) 




The present participle (finishing, for example) combines with present, past, 
and future verbs to show two events happening at the same time or at nearly 
the same time. The present perfect form of the participle ( having finished) 
combines with present, past, and future verbs to show two events happening 
at different times. 




m 



She done him wrong 



The word done is never a verb all by itself. A 
true party animal, this verb form insists on being 
accompanied by helping verbs. In grammar- 
speak, done is a past participle of the verb to do. 
Naked, shivering, totally-alone participles never 
function as verbs. Here are some examples: 

WRONG: He done all he could, but the sky 
fell anyway. 

RIGHT: He had done all he could, but the sky 
fell anyway. 

WRONG: She done him wrong. 

RIGHT, BUT A BAD SENTENCE: She has 
done him wrong. 

BETTER SENTENCE: What she has done to 
him is wrong. 



You may blame the fact that so many people t 

create sentences like the first example (He 
done all he could) on one of the many joys of 
English grammar. Some past pBf|“ ms com 



those of regular verbs — look exactly the same 
as the plain past tense. Consider the verb to 
walk: 

PLAIN PAST TENSE: I walked twenty miles. 

PRESENT PERFECT TENSE: I have walked 
twenty miles. 

WHAT THESE TWO SENTENCES HAVE IN 
COMMON: The word walked, which is 
a verb in the first example and a past par- 
ticiple — part of a verb — in the second 
example. 

WHY ENGLISH DOES THIS: I have no idea. 

BOTTOM LINE: You may use walked alone 
or with a helper because the same word 
may be both a past tense verb and a par- 
ticiple. You may not use done by itself as a 
verb, however, because it's not the past 
tense of to do. The past tense of to do is did. 



www.watchtvsitcoms.co g^^apter 18; Fine-tuning Verbs 243 



Another one of the verb-forms-that-aren’t-verbs, the infinitive, may also show 
events happening at two different times. The present perfect infinitive (to 
have finished, for example) is the one that does this job. Don’t worry about 
the name; just look for the have. Here’s an example: 




It was helpful to have bought the cookbook before the dinner party 
(Event 1: Pre-party, panicked trip to the bookstore. Event 2: Guests arrive, 
unaware that they’re about to eat Alfalfa Stringbean Surprise.) 

The have form (the present perfect form) of the infinitive always places an 
event before another in the past. Don’t use the have form unless you’re 
putting events in order: 



WRONG: I was sorry to have attended the party. 



RIGHT: I was sorry to attend the party. The music was terrible and there 
was nothing to eat but vegetables. 




ALSO RIGHT: I was sorry to have attended the party before I got a chance 
to investigate the menu. Shakey’s salad was terrible. 

Which sentence shows two events happening at the same time, and which 
shows two events happening at different times? 

A. Running up the clock, the mouse spoke with his friends. 



B. Having run up the clock, the mouse spoke with his friends. 



Answer: Sentence A shows two events happening at the same time. The 
mouse is running and speaking with his friends. Sentence B shows two events 
happening at different times. The mouse has arrived at the top of the clock 
and is now speaking with his friends (notice that the word having is involved, 
indicating that different events are occurring at different times). 



Reporting Information : 

The Verb Tetts the Story 

Flipping his hair over each of his three shoulders, the alien told us about 
the explosion on his planet. The gas of three rocket tanks caught fire and 
destroyed the spaceport terminal, he said. He went on to explain that 
almost everyone on the planet was affected, including the volleyball team, 
which sustained significant losses. All their courts, he said, were covered 
with rubble, and they forfeited the intergalactic tournament. 



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2^ Part IV: Polishing Without of Grammar 



The alien’s story is summarized speech. I’m not quoting him directly. If I 
were, I’d insert some of his exact words: 

“Oh, the humanity!” he cried. 

In the previous summarized speech, the verbs are all in past tense. Although 
rare, it’s possible to summarize speech in present tense also. Present tense 
adds an extra dose of drama: 



Flipping his hair over each of his three shoulders, the alien tells us about 
the explosion on his planet. The gas of three rocket tanks catches fire and 
destroys the spaceport terminal, he says. He goes on to explain that 
almost everyone on the planet is affected, including the volleyball team, 
which sustains significant losses. All their courts, he says, are covered 
with rubble, and they forfeit the intergalactic tournament. 




When reporting information, either present or past tense is acceptable. 
However, mixing tenses is not acceptable. Don’t move from one to the 
other, except for one special case, which I describe in the next section, 
“Recognizing Eternal Truths: Statements That Are Always in Present Tense.” 



WRONG: Shakey said that he had tossed the salad out the window. It hits a 
pedestrian, who sues for lettuce-related damages. (The first two verbs are 
in past tense, and the next two are in present tense.) 




RIGHT: Shakey said that he had tossed the salad out the window. It hit a 
pedestrian, who sued for lettuce-related damages. (All verbs are in a form 
of the past tense.) 

Correct the verb tense in this paragraph. The verbs are in italics. 

Lola testified that she excavated at the town dump every Tuesday after- 
noon before she attends choir practice. She often found arrow heads, 
broken pottery, discarded automobile tires, and other items of interest. 
One day she discovers a metal coil about two feet long. On one end of the 
coil was a piece of gum. As she thoughtfully removes the gum and starts to 
chew, a whistle blew. Lochness sprinted into the dump at top speed. “Get 
your hands off my gum,” he exclaims. Lochness smiles. His anti-gum-theft- 
alarm had worked perfectly. 



Answer: The story is in two different tenses, past and present. To correct it, 
choose one of the two. Here is the past tense version, with the changed verbs 
underlined: 



Lola testified that she excavated at the town dump every Tuesday after- 
noon before she attended choir practice. She often found arrow heads, 
broken pottery, tires, and other items of interest. 
One day she discovered a metal coil about two feet long. On one end of 
the coil was a piece of gum. As she thoughtfully removed the gum and 




WWW wa.ch.vsi.coms co thanter Fine . t||ninn y erbg 2^5 



started, to chew, a whistle blew t Lochness sprinted into the dump at top 
speed. “Get your hands off my gum,” he exclaimed . Lochness smiled . His 
anti-gum-theft-alarm had worked perfectly. 



Here is the present tense version, with the changed verbs underlined: 

Lola testifies that she excavates at the town dump every Tuesday after- 
noon before she attends choir practice. She often finds arrow heads, 
broken pottery, discarded automobile tires, and other items of interest. 
One day she discovers a metal coil about two feet long. On one end of the 
coil is a piece of gum. As she thoughtfully removes the gum and starts to 
chew, a whistle blows . Lochness sprints into the dump at top speed. “Get 
your hands off my gum,” he exclaims. Lochness smiles. His anti-gum-theft- 
alarm has worked perfectly. 




One special note: When you’re not reporting what someone says, you can 
make a general statement about something that always happens (someone’s 
custom or habit) using present tense. You can easily combine such a state- 
ment with a story that focuses on one particular incident in the past tense. 
Therefore, the preceding story may begin in present tense and move to past 
tense in this way: 



Lola excavates at the town dump every Tuesday afternoon before she 
attends choir practice. She often finds arrow heads, broken pottery, dis- 
carded automobile tires, and other items of interest. 



Up to here in the story, all the verbs are in present tense because the story 
tells of Lola’s habits. The story isn’t reporting what someone said. In the next 
sentence, the story switches to past tense because it examines one particular 
day in the past. 



One day she discovered a metal coil about two feet long. On one end of 
the coil was a piece of gum. As she thoughtfully removed the gum and 
started to chew, a whistle blew. Lochness sprinted into the dump at top 
speed. “Get your hands off my gum,” he exclaimed. Lochness smiled. His 
anti-gum-theft-alarm had worked perfectly. 



Recognizing Eternal Truths: Statements 
That Are Atu/ays in Present Tense 

What’s wrong with these sentences? 



Analivia explained thmityfm^t^'famngqQtrled two. 
Ms. Belli said that the earth was round. 

She added that diamonds were made of carbon. 




2^)6 Part IV: Polishing Without WaT— f fie Fi ner s Points of Grammar 



Well, you may be thinking, 

Equaled two? What does it equal now? Three? 

Was round? And now it’s a cube? 

Were made of carbon? Now they make diamonds from pastrami? 

In others words, the verb tense is wrong. All of these statements represent 
eternal truths — statements that will never change. When you write such 
statements, you must always write in present tense, even if the statement 
was made in the past: 

Analivia explained that one plus one equals two. 

Ms. Belli told us that the earth is round. 

She went on to say that diamonds are made of carbon. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Legghorn said that Lulu had a cold. 

B. Leggorn said that Lulu has a cold. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. Lulu’s cold is not an eternal truth, though it 
has lasted three weeks and shows no signs of letting up. Be consistent in verb 
tense. 




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Chapter 19 

Saying What You Want to Say: 
Descriptive Words and Phrases 

In This Chapter 

► Placing descriptions so that the sentence says what you mean 

► Beginning a sentence with a description 
Using infinitives as descriptions 

- Avoiding double meanings for descriptive words 
Omitting words without losing meaning 



m Mnce upon a time, ye olde ancestor of our Modern English, Old English, 
was the language of the land. Most words had many forms: one to show 
that the word received an action and one to show that it performed an action. 
Because the words themselves carried so many aspects of meaning, you 
could arrange them in many ways and still say the same thing. Word order 
was less important in Old English than it is in Modern English. 

The good news is that speakers of Modern English don’t have to learn dozens 
of forms of words. The bad news is that Modern English speakers have to be 
careful about word order. Most people do all right with nouns and verbs, but 
descriptive words are another matter. In this chapter, I show you some 
common mistakes of placement. Specifically, I show you how placing a 
description in the wrong spot can completely wreck your sentence. 

Ruining a Perfectly Good Sentence: 
Misplaced Descriptions 

Can you spot what’s wrong with this sentence? 

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Lulu put a ring into her pierced nose that she had bought last week. 




2£)S P art Polishing Without Wo^^fWi^FiffleFPetftits of Grammar 



The describing words that she had bought last week follow the word nose. The 
way the sentence is now, that she had bought last week describes nose. The 
Internet sells plenty of unusual items, but not noses (yet), though I imagine a 
Web address for plastic surgeons offering discount nose jobs is out there 
somewhere. 

Here’s the correction: 



Into her pierced nose Lulu put a ring that she had bought last week. 




Now that she had bought last week follows ring, which Lulu really did buy last 
week. 

The description that she bought last week is an adjective clause. It modifies 
the noun ring. For more information on adjective clauses, see Chapter 24. 

Here’s another description that wandered too far from home: 



Lulu also bought a genuine, 1950-model, fluorescent pink hula-hoop with 
a credit card. 



According to news reports, toddlers and dogs have received credit card 
applications, but not plastic toys — at least as far as I know. Yet the sentence 
says that the hula-hoop comes with a credit card. How to fix it? Move the 
description: 

With a credit card Lulu also bought a genuine, 1950-model, fluorescent 
pink hula-hoop. 

Granted, most people can figure out the meaning of the sentence, even when 
the description is in the wrong place. Logic is a powerful force. But chances 
are your reader or listener will pause a moment to unravel what you’ve said. 
The next couple of sentences may be a washout because your audience is 
distracted. 




The rule concerning description placement is simple: Place the description 
as close as possible to the word that it describes. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lochness put the paper into his pocket with atomic secrets written on it. 

B. Lochness put the paper with atomic secrets written on it into his pocket. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct because the paper has atomic secrets written 
on it, not the pocket. 



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Chapter 19: Saying What Words and Phrases 21)9 



With atomic secrets is a prepositional phrase, specifically, an adjectival prepo- 
sitional phrase (those grammatical terms really roll off the tongue, don’t 
they?) describing paper. Written on it is a participle, a verb form that isn’t 
used as a verb. Participles describe nouns and pronouns. In this sentence, 
written on it describes the noun secrets. For more information on preposi- 
tional phrases, see Chapter 9. For more information on participles, see 
Chapter 24. 

Try another. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Analivia peddled to the Mathematics Olympics on her ten-speed bicycle 
with a complete set of differential equations. 

B. Analivia peddled on her ten-speed bicycle to the Mathematics Olympics 
with a complete set of differential equations. 

C. With a complete set of differential equations, Analivia peddled on her 
ten-speed bicycle to the Mathematics Olympics. 

Answer: Sentence C is correct. In sentence A, the bicycle has ten speeds, two 
tires, and a set of equations — not very useful in climbing hills and swerving 
to avoid taxis! In sentence B, the Mathematics Olympics has a complete set of 
differential equations. Perhaps so, but the sentence revolves around Analivia, 
so the more likely meaning is that Analivia has the equations. Only in sen- 
tence C does Analivia have the equations. By the way, she won a silver medal 
in speed-solving. 

Keeping j/our Audience Hanging: 
danglers 

How can you describe something that isn’t there? Descriptions must have 
something to describe. Read this sentence: 

Munching a buttered sausage, the cholesterol really builds up. 

Who is munching? You? Eggworthy? Everyone in the local diet club? In the 
sentence above, no one is munching. Descriptive verb forms that have noth- 
ing appropriate to describe are called danglers or dangling modifiers. To cor- 
rect the sentence, add a muncher: 

Munching a buttered sausage, Eggworthy smiled and waved to his 
cardiologist. 




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250 Part IV: Polishing Without Wax — ^e^mer^mnts of Grammar 

Some sentences start with a verb form — a participle or an infinitive, for 
those of you who like grammatical terms — that doesn’t act as a verb but 
instead describes a noun or a pronoun. (For more information on participles 
and infinitives, see Chapter 24.) In sentences beginning with a descriptive 
verb form, the subject of the sentence must perform the action mentioned in 
the descriptive verb form. In the sample sentence, Eggworthy is the subject 
of the sentence. The sentence begins with a descriptive verb form, munching 
a buttered sausage. Thus, Eggworthy is the one who is munching. (For more 
information on identifying the subject of a sentence, see Chapter 4.) If you 
want the cardiologist to munch, say 

Munching a buttered sausage, the cardiologist returned Eggworthy’s 
wave. 

Munching a buttered sausage is an introductory participle. It modifies the sub- 
ject cardiologist in the preceding example. The introductory participle always 
describes the subject of the sentence. 

Here’s another example: 

Sitting on the park bench, the speeding space shuttle briefly delighted 
the little boy. 

Oh really? The space shuttle is sitting on a bench and speeding at the same 
time? Defies the laws of physics, don’t you think? Try again: 

Sitting on the park bench, the little boy was briefly delighted by the 
speeding space shuttle. 

Now little boy is the subject of the sentence, so the introductory description 
applies to him, not to the space shuttle. Another correction may be 

The speeding space shuttle briefly delighted the little boy who was sitting 
on the park bench. 

Now the descriptive words sitting on the park bench are placed next to little 
boy, who in fact is the one sitting, being delighted by the speeding space 
shuttle. 

Which one is correct? 

A. Sailing swiftly across the sea, Samantha’s boat was surely a beautiful 
sight. 

B. Sailing swiftly across the sea, the sight of the beautiful boat made 
Samantha sob. 






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Chapter 19: Saying What Yo1i v W^flf > t&^ < ^1}^criptive Words and Phrases 257 




Answer: Sentence A is correct. Sailing swiftly across the sea describes 
Samantha’s boat. Samantha’s boat is performing that action. Sentence B is 
wrong because in sentence B sight, the subject, is sailing. (And of course, a 
sight can’t sail.) 

A common dangler is an infinitive (to + verb) that begins a sentence. 

To sew well, strong light is necessary. 



This sentence may sound correct to you. After all, sewing in the dark is hard. 
But think about the meaning for a moment. Who is sewing? No one, at least 
the way the sentence is now written. Moving the infinitive may make the sen- 
tence sound better to your ears, but the move doesn’t solve the problem: 



A strong light is necessary to sew well. 



There’s still no one sewing, so the sentence is still incorrect. To fix the prob- 
lem, you must add a person: 




To sew well, you need a strong light. ( You are sewing.) 

To sew well, sit near a strong light. (You is understood in this command 
sentence.) 

To sew well, everyone needs a strong light. (Everyone is sewing.) 

To sew well, Felonia insists on at least a 75-watt bulb. (Felonia is sewing.) 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. To enjoy a good cup of coffee, a clean coffee pot is essential. 

B. A clean coffeepot is essential to enjoy a good cup of coffee. 



Answer. Neither A nor B is correct. (I threw in one of those annoying teacher 
tricks just to keep you alert.) Neither sentence has a coffee drinker in it. So 
who’s enjoying the coffee? No one. A true correction must add a person: 



To enjoy a good cup of coffee, you start with a clean coffeepot. 

To enjoy a good cup of coffee, caffeine addicts start with a clean coffeepot. 

To enjoy a good cup of coffee, Analivia starts with a clean coffeepot. 

To enjoy a good cup of coffee, start with a clean coffeepot. (Now you 
[understood in this command sentence] are the coffee drinker.) 



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252 Part IV: Polishing Without Pfflnts of Grammar 



Avoiding Confusing descriptions 

Take a look at the following example: 

The teacher that Lochness annoyed often assigned detention to him. 

What does the sentence mean? Did Lochness often annoy the teacher? 
Perhaps the teacher often assigned detention to Lochness. 

The problem with the sample sentence is that often is between annoying and 
assigning and may be linked to either of those two actions. The sentence vio- 
lates a basic rule of description: All descriptions must be clear. You shouldn’t 
put a description where it may have two possible meanings. 

How do you fix the sentence? You move often so that it is closer to one of the 
verbs, thus showing the reader which of two words only describes. Here are 
two correct versions, each with a different meaning: 

The teacher that Lochness often annoyed assigned detention to him. 

In this sentence often is closer to annoyed. Thus, often describes annoyed. 

The sentence communicates to the reader that after 514 spitballs, the teacher 
finally flipped and assigned detention to Lochness. 

Here’s a second possibility: 

The teacher that Lochness annoyed assigned detention to him often. 




Now often is closer to assigned. The reader understands that often describes 
assigned. The sentence tells the reader that the teacher vowed “not to take 
anything from that little brat” and assigned detention to Lochness every day 
of the school year, including winter break and Presidents’ Day. 

Correct or incorrect? You decide. 

The pig chewing on pig chow happily burped and made us all run for gas 
masks. 



Answer: Incorrect. You don’t know if the pig is chewing happily or burping 
happily. Here’s how to correct the sentence: 

The pig chewing happily on pig chow burped and made us all run for gas 
masks. 



or 



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The pig chewing on pig chow burped happily and made us all run for gas 
masks. 




Chapter 19: Saying What YoTWan^o^ayf^escriptive Words and Phrases 253 




You may be tempted to fix a description by tucking it inside an infinitive: 

Felonia’s song is strange enough to intensely captivate creative musicians. 



Technically, you shouldn’t split an infinitive (to + verb — to captivate in this 
sentence). 



Right: to captivate intensely 
Wrong: to intensely captivate 




This rule is often ignored and probably on the way out of the grammar 
rule books. But if you’re writing for a super-strict reader, be careful of split 
infinitives. 

The most commonly misplaced descriptions are single words: only, just, 
almost, and even. See Chapter 8 for a complete explanation of how to place 
these descriptive words correctly. 



Finding the Subject When Words Are 
Missing front the Sentence 

In the never-ending human quest to save time, words are often chopped out 
of sentences. The assumption is that the sentence is still understandable 
because the listener or reader supplies the missing piece. Not a bad assump- 
tion, as long as you understand what you can chop and what you need to 
leave alone. Check out these examples: 

After sleeping for exactly 33 minutes, Johann yawned and woke up. 
Although screaming in rage, Lola managed to keep an eye on the clock. 

If caught, Lochness will probably deny everything. 

Calla Lily snored when dreaming of little sheep. 

Do you understand what these sentences mean? With all the words present, 
the sentences read as follows: 

After he had been sleeping for exactly 33 minutes, Johann yawned and 
woke up. 

Although Lola was screaming in rage, she managed to keep an eye on the 
clock. 

If Lochness is caught, everything. 

Calla Lily snored when she was dreaming of little sheep. 




25 $ Part M Polishing Without W^^TI^I^fi^TOnts of Grammar 




In the sample sentences, the missing part of the sentence is the subject. 
Sometimes part of the verb is missing also. You need to remember only one 
rule for these sentences: The missing subject must be the same as the sub- 
ject that is present. In other words, if your sentence lacks more information, 
the reader or listener will assume that you’re talking about the same person 
or thing in both parts of the sentence. Here are some examples: 



WRONG: While missing a shovel, the hole in Lulu’s backyard was dug by a 
backhoe. 



UNINTENDED MEANING: While the hole was missing a shovel, the hole in 
Lulu’s backyard was dug by a backhoe. 

CORRECTION: While missing a shovel, Lulu rented a backhoe to dig a 
hole in her backyard. 

MEANING OF CORRECTED SENTENCE: While she was missing a shovel, 
Lulu rented a backhoe to dig a hole in her backyard. 




ADDITIONAL UNINTENDED EFFECT: Lulu, not knowing how to drive a 
backhoe, hit a power line and brought down the entire electrical system 
of the Northeast. The Internet has still not recovered. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Since conducting the leak test, Dripless’s pipe has been watertight. 

B. Since conducting the leak test, Dripless reported that the pipe was 
watertight. 



C. Since he conducted the leak test, Dripless’s pipe has been watertight. 



Answer: Sentences B and C are both correct. The missing subject in sen- 
tences A and B is Dripless. In sentence A Dripless’s pipe is the subject of the 
second part of the sentence, so there is a mismatch between the two parts of 
the sentence. In sentence B Dripless is the subject of the second part of the 
sentence. The two halves of the sentence match. In sentence C a subject (he) 
is supplied, so the two halves of the sentences don’t have to have the same 
subject. 



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Chapter 20 

Good, Better, Best Comparisons 

In This Chapter 

► Adding -er and -est to descriptions 

► Using more/less and most/least correctly 

► Understanding some irregular comparisons 
Identifying words that can’t be compared 
Avoiding illogical comparisons 

► Writing double comparisons correctly 



# s your knowledge of comparisons more better or less worse ? If you chose 
^ one of those two alternatives, this chapter is for you, because more better 
and less worse are both incorrect. English has two ways of creating compar- 
isons, but you can’t use them together and they’re not interchangeable. In 
this chapter, I show you how to tell the difference between the two types 
of comparisons, how to use each correctly, and how to avoid some of the 
common errors of comparisons. I don’t, however, tell you which comparisons 
to avoid altogether, such as Which dress makes me look fat? and Am / a better 
dancer than your last date? You have to figure out those dilemmas yourself. 



Ending It (Pith - Er or Giving It More 

Lochness’s smile is more evil than Legghorn’s, but Legghorn’s giggle 
sounds cuter. 

Eggworthy searched for the least efficient sports utility vehicle, believing 
that global warming is less important than having the raciest image in the 
parking lot. 

Felonia’s most recent symphony was less successful than her earlier 
composition. 

Analivia’s older sister is an even greater mathematician than Analivia her- 
self, though Analivi^Ate\^feeh«toda^eometry. 

Lulu’s latest tattoo is grosser than her first, but Lulu, not the shyest girl in 
the class, is looking for the most extreme design for her next effort. 




256 Part IV: Polishing Without WaKwwr^^tFjROiriPojtnts of Grammar 



What did you notice about the comparisons in the preceding sample sen- 
tences? Here’s the stripped-down list: more evil, cuter, least efficient, less 
important, raciest, most recent, less successful, earlier, older, greater, grosser, 
latest, shyest, most extreme. 

Some of the comparisons were expressed by adding -er or -est, and some were 
expressed by adding more, most, less, or least to the quality that’s being com- 
pared. How do you know which is appropriate? (Or, to use a comparison, how 
do you know which is better 7) The dictionary is the final authority, and you 
should consult one if you’re in doubt about a particular word. However, there 
are some general guidelines: 

Add -er and -est to most single-syllable words. 

u 0 If the word already ends in the letter e, don’t double the e by adding -er 
or -est. Just add -r or -st. 

u 0 -Er and -est endings are not usually appropriate for words ending in -ly. 



The dictionary is your friend 



You can learn a lot from the dictionary, with only 
a little boredom. The following is a list of what 
the average dictionary entry tells you about 
each word: 

u 0 the part of speech 

u 0 the pronunciation 

v 0 the definitions of the word, listed in order of 
importance 

v 0 some common expressions using the word 

u 0 other forms of the word 

0 something about the history of the word — 
its earlier forms or its linguistic ancestors 

0 a ruling on whether the word is acceptable 
in formal English 

All that information is packed into only an inch 
or two of writing! But to fit in everything, the 
publishers rely on abbreviations. Therefore, 
reading a dictionary entry may resemble a trip 
to a foreign country — one where everyone 



else seems to know the language and customs 
and is happy to leave you out of the picture. 

Let me put you in the picture. Here's a very spe- 
cial dictionary entry, with the parts decoded for 
the average reader. (By the way, don't look for 
this word in a real dictionary; I made it up.) Just 
match the letters in the dictionary entry with the 
explanations below. 

A. chukblok B. (chuck-blahk) C. n. D. pi. chuk- 
bloks. E. 1 . The state currency of Ludwig's coun- 
try. 2. The national bank of Ludwig's country. 

3. In economics, a very high protective tariff: 
a chukblok against imported bananas. F. 

4. Informal extremely rich person: he's a walk- 
ing chukblok. G. 5. obs. A coin made of chewing 
gum. H. - adj. 1. rich: She put a chukblok icing 
on that cake. 2. illegal: The chukblok plan was 
bound to backfire. I. [<0.L. chublah<ML 
chubare a coin.] J. Syn. n. coins, money, 
moolah, spending green, adj. well-heeled, well- 
off, illicit. K. - to see chukbloks in the trees 
Slang. To assume that one is about to get rich. - 



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www.^ ^ptfepgQyQDod. Better, Best: Comparisons 25 7 



to flip one's chukblok Informal. To bet all of 

one's money on the throw of the dice. 

Here are the letter identifications: 

A. The word 

B. The pronunciation. The symbols here are a 
little confusing, but most dictionaries 
provide a key in the front of the book. The 
key explains the pronunciation symbols by 
showing you the same sound in some easily 
recognizable words. 

C. The part of speech. 

D. The abbreviation pi. means plural, and this 
part of the entry tells you how to form the 
plural of this word. 

E. The definitions. The most commonly used 
definitions are first. 

F. Informal tel Is you that you shouldn't use that 
particular meaning in formal writing. If the 
word isn't labeled, ft's acceptable in formal 
writing. 

6. Obs. means obsolete and tells you that a 
meaning is no longer used. 



H. Another part of speech. The adj. abbrevia- 
tion tells you that you can also use chuk- 
blok as an adjective, in addition to using it 
as a noun. The meanings listed after adj. 
explain what the word means when it is 
used as an adjective. Again, the definitions 
are in order from the most common mean- 
ing to the rarest 

I. These symbols tell you the family tree of the 
word chukblok. The abbreviation 01. refers 
to Old Ludwig, a language that I made up. 
ML is an abbreviation; it refers to Middle 
Lolean, another language that 1 made up. In 
the brackets, you learn that you can trace 
the history of chukblok to the Old Ludwig 
word chublah, which in turn may be traced 
to a Middle Lolean word chubare, meaning 
coin. 

J. Another abbreviation. Syn. means synonym. 
Following this symbol are words that mean 
the same as the noun and adjective ver- 
sions of chukblok. 

K. The meaning of common expressions with 
the word chukblok. One is slang and the 
other informal; neither is acceptable in 
formal writing. 



Table 20-1 is a chart of some common descriptions of Lola, with both the -er 
and -est forms. Note: To understand Lola’s personality, you need to know to 
what (or to whom) she’s being compared, so I include a few clues. 



Table 20-1 


Common Descriptions 


Description of Lola 


-ER form 


-EST form 


able 


abler than Lulu 


ablest of all the budding sci- 
entists in her atom-splitting 
class 


bald 


balderthan an eagle 


baldest of the models 


cute 


cuterthan an elf 
— www.watehtvsitcoms.com — 


cutest of all the assassins 



( continued ') 









258 Part IV: Polishing Without Wa»ww7\ThetFin©ihPeifits of Grammar 



Table 20-1 ( continued } 


Description of Lola 


-ER form 


-EST form 


dumb 


dumber than a sea slug 


dumbest of the presidential 
candidates 


edgy 


edgier than caffeine 


edgiest of the atom splitters 


friendly 


friendlierthan a 
grizzly bear 


friendliest person on the block 


glad 


gladder than the loser 


gladdest of all the lottery 
winners 


heavy 


heavier than a before 
ad for a diet book 


heaviest of all the sumo 
wrestlers 


itchy 


itchier than she was 
before she sat in 
poison ivy 


itchiest of all the patients in 
the skin clinic 




Notice that when the last letter is y, you must often change the y to i before 
you tack on the ending. 

Table 20-2 contains even more descriptions of Lola, this time with more, less, 
most, and least added: 



Table 20-2 


Two-word Descriptions 


Description of Lola 


More/Less form 


Most/Least form 


(Lola runs) jerkily 


more jerkily than the old horse 


most jerkily of all the 
racers 


knock-kneed 


less knock-kneed than an 
old sailor 


least knock-kneed of 
all the beauty pageant 
contestants 


lily-livered 


less lily-livered than the saloon 
owner in an old movie 


least lily-livered of all 
the florists 


magnificent 


more magnificent than a work 
of art 


most magnificent of 
all the ninjas 


notorious 


more notorious than a princess 


most notorious of the 
florists 


oafish 


wwvle^SteBfi^itibSft.thflryoung prince 


least oafish of all the 
cab drivers 










ww €lr^ter20;cGood. Better, Best: Comparisons 25{J 



Description of Lola 


More/Less form 


Most/Least form 


prune-faced 


less prune-faced than her 


least prune-faced of 




teacher 


the grammar students 


queenly 


more queenly than 


most queenly of all 




Queen Elizabeth 


the models 


rigid 


less rigid than a grammarian 


least rigid of the traf- 
fic cops 




These two tables give you a clue about another important comparison char- 
acteristic. Did you notice that the second column is always a comparison 
between Lola and one other person or thing? The addition of -er or more or 
less compares two things. In the last column of each chart, Lola is compared 
to a group with more than two members. When the group is larger than two, 
-est or most or least creates the comparison and identifies the extreme. 



To sum up the rules: 

u 0 Use -er or more/less when comparing only two things. 

Use -est or most/least when singling out the extreme in a group that is 
larger than two. 

v 0 Never combine two comparison methods, such as -erand more. 



The -er or less/more form of comparison is called comparative and the -est or 
least/most form of comparison is called superlative. 




Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lola, fresh from drinking a cup of cream, was the more cheerful of all her 
friends in the dairy bar. 

B. Lola, fresh from drinking a cup of cream, was the most cheerful of all her 
friends in the dairy bar. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. The sentence singles out Lola as the extreme 
in a group, so you need most here, not more. 



Try another: 

Which sentence is correct? 



A. Eggworthy’s design for a new egg carton is simpler than the one his 
competitor hatched. 

B. Eggworthy’s desigi^lfd^ ^^f^^lT&ltfflSh is more simpler than the one 
his competitor hatched. 



260 Part IV: Polishing Without Waxww^lhet^neriP<otnts of Grammar 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. Never combine two forms of comparison. 
Sentence B combines the -er form with the word more. 

Last one. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Of ail the cars in the parking lot, Eggworthy’s is the newer. 

B. Of all the cars in the parking lot, Eggworthy’s is the newest. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. Eggworthy’s car is compared to more than one 
other car. 

Breaking the Rules: Irregular 
Comparisons 

Whenever English grammar gives you a set of rules that make sense, you 
know it’s time for the irregulars to show up. Not surprisingly, then, you have 
to create a few common comparisons without -er, -est, more/less, or 
most/ least. Look at the following examples: 

Legghorn’s trumpet solo is good, but Lochness’s is better, and according 
to Lulu, her trumpet solo is the best of all. 

Lulu’s habit of picking at her tattoo is bad, but Ratrug’s constant sneezing 
is worse. Eggworthy’s tendency to crack jokes is the worst habit of all. 

Mudbud has a good earthquake prevention kit. The kit made by 
Mudbud’s major competitor is better than Mudbud’s. The kit sold by a 
little-known Parisian company is the best of all the brands now on the 
market. 

Got the idea? Here is a list of the irregular comparisons: 

I u 0 good, better, best 
v* bad, worse, worst 
well, better, best 

Similarly, here are two more that I’ve also used: 

i u 0 little, less, least 
^ many (or much), more, most 

These irregulars break the rules, but they are easy to remember. Three of 
the irregulars judge q^htya(fgkijie^cbaid.pwiell) and two judge quantity 
(little, many). The comparative form compares one thing to another, 
and the superlative form identifies the extreme in the group. 




www Ctifr^ef2Q:GqM Better, Best: Comparisons 




Answer this question in correct English (and then correct the question itself). 
Who’s the baddest kid in the playground? 



Answer: The worst (not baddest) kid in the playground is Lochness, unless 
Lola is in one of her moods. The correct question is Who’s the worst kid in the 
playground ? 

Here’s another: 



Who plays more better blues? 

Answer: No one. Use more or better ; but not both, to make the comparison. 
Other ways to word the question include: 

Who plays better blues — Legghorn or Lulu? 

Who plays the best blues? 

Who plays the blues best? 

Of the two saxophonists, who plays better blues? 

Last one. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Legghorn says that he is feeling worse today than yesterday, but his 
statement must be considered in light of the fact that today is the 
algebra final. 

B. Legghorn says that he is feeling more bad today than yesterday, but 
his statement must be considered in light of the fact that today is the 
algebra final. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. More bad is incorrect; use worse. 



Neder More Perfect: Using U/ords 
That l/ou Can't Compare 

Is this chapter more unique than the previous chapter? No, definitely not. 
Why? Because nothing is more unique. The word unique means “one of a 
kind.” Either something is one of a kind, or it’s not. Yes or no, true or false, 
one or zero (when you’re speaking in computer code). No halfway point, no 
degrees of uniqueness, no . . . well, you get the idea. You can’t compare some- 
thing that’s unique to anything but itself. Check out the following examples: 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

WRONG: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was more unique than the 
Grecian urn. 




262 



Part IV: Polishing Without Waxm^vThe\iifleffAoiiits of Grammar 



ALSO WRONG: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was fairly unique. 

ALSO WRONG: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was almost unique. 

WRONG AGAIN: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was very unique. 

RIGHT: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was unique. 

ALSO RIGHT: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was unique, as was the 
Grecian urn. 

RIGHT AGAIN: The vase that Eggworthy cracked was more unusual than 
the Grecian urn. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: Unusual is not an absolute term, so you can use it in 
comparisons. 

The word unique is not unique. Several other words share its absolute quality. 
One is perfect. Something is perfect or not perfect; nothing is very perfect or 
unbelievably perfect or quite perfect. (I am bound, as a patriotic American, to 
point out one exception: The United States Constitution contains a statement 
of purpose citing the need to create “a more perfect union.”) Another absolute 
word is round. Your shape is round or not round. Your shape isn’t a bit round, 
rounder, or roundest. Here are some examples: 

WRONG: “Lola is extremely perfect when it comes to grammar, as I am,” 
said Lulu. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: Perfect is absolute. There are no degrees of perfection. 

RIGHT: “Lola is nearly perfect when it comes to grammar, as I am,” said 
Lulu. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: You can approach an absolute quality, comparing how 
close someone or something comes to the quality. Lola approaches per- 
fection (as does Lulu), but neither achieves it. 

ALSO RIGHT: “Lola is perfect when it comes to grammar, as I am,” said 
Lulu. 

WHY THEY’RE RIGHT: You may approach perfect, as in nearly perfect. You 
may also be perfect, without any qualifiers. 

WRONG: Of the two circles drawn on the chalkboard, mine is rounder. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: The shape is round or it’s not round. It can’t be 
rounder. Also, by definition circles are round. 

RIGHT: Of the two shapes drawn on the chalkboard, mine is more nearly 
round. 

RIGHT AGAIN: Neither of the two shapes drawn on the chalkboard is 
round, but mine approaches roundness. 



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wGJiapter20]Good. Better, Best: Comparisons 



As some of the “RIGHT” sentences in the preceding examples illustrate, you 
can’t compare absolute qualities, but you can compare how close people or 
things come to having those qualities. Look at these examples: 

Lola thinks that her latest nose ring is an almost perfect accessory. 
Ratrug’s new hooked rug is more nearly circular than his previous effort. 
Lulu’s style of relaxation approaches uniqueness. 

One more word causes all sorts of trouble in comparisons: equally. You hear 
the expression equally as quite frequently. You don’t need the as, because the 
word equally contains the idea of comparison. For example: 

WRONG: Lochness got a lighter sentence than Lulu, but he is equally as 
guilty because of the nature of his doughnut-based terrorism. 

RIGHT: Lochness got a lighter sentence than Lulu, but he is equally guilty 
because of the nature of his doughnut-based terrorism. 

ALSO RIGHT: Lochness got a lighter sentence than Lulu, but he is as 
guilty as she is because of the nature of his doughnut-based terrorism. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Legghorn’s recent drama is even more unique than his last play. 

B. Legghorn’s recent drama is even more unusual than his last play. 

C. Legghorn’s recent drama is unique, as was his last play. 

Answer: Sentences B and C are correct. Sentence A incorrectly compares an 
absolute (unique). In sentence B more unusual expresses a correct compari- 
son. Sentence C tells you that Legghorn’s recent drama is unique and that his 
last play was also unique. The absolute is not being compared but simply 
applied to two different things. 

Which is correct? 

A. Analivia’s last chess move, when compared to the grandmaster’s, is 
equally mistaken. 

B. Analivia’s last chess move, when compared to the grandmaster’s, is 
equally as mistaken. 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. Do not say equally as because the word 
equally expresses the concept of comparison. 



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Part IV: Polishing Without Wa^w^IfH^iiMfsPaifits of Grammar 



Leaving, \lour Audience in Suspense : 
Incomplete Comparisons 

What’s wrong with this sentence? 

Octavia screamed more chillingly. 

Maybe these hints will help: 

Octavia screamed more chillingly. Uh oh, thought Olivier, yesterday I 
thought she would burst my eardrum. If she screamed more chillingly 
today, I’d better get my earplugs out before it’s time for tomorrow’s 
lungfest. 



Octavia screamed more chillingly. Olivier, rushing to aid Hypatia, whose 
scream of terror had turned his blood to ice, stopped dead. Octavia 
sounds even worse, he thought. I’d better go to her first. 



Octavia screamed more chillingly. “Please,” said the director, “I know that 
you have just completed take 99 of this extremely taxing verbal exercise, 
but if you are going to star in my horror movie, you’ll have to put a little 
more into it. Try again!” 

Now the problem is clear. The comparison in the examples is incomplete. 
Octavia screamed more chillingly than . . . than what? Until you finish the sen- 
tence, your readers are left with as many possibilities as they can imagine. 
Bottom line: Don’t stop explaining your comparison until you get your point 
across. Look at the following example: 

WRONG: Octavia screamed more chillingly. 

RIGHT: Octavia screamed more chillingly than the cat did the day Lulu 
drove a truck over its tail. 

ALSO RIGHT: Octavia screamed more chillingly than she ever had before, 
and Olivier resolved to come to her aid as soon as he had finished all five 
courses of his lunch. 

RIGHT AGAIN: Octavia screamed more chillingly than she had in the pre- 
vious takes, but the director still decided to go with the mute actress who 
had brought so many fans into the theater for the previous twelve install- 
ments of the hoj/i^W.^§tcii^sitcoms.com 




www fltia |pftefr20^GflO d . Better, Best: Comparisons 265 



Here’s another comparison with a fatal error. Can you spot the problem? 

Lulu loved sky-diving more than Lola. 

Need another hint? Read on: 

Lulu loved sky-diving more than Lola. Lola sobbed uncontrollably as she 
realized that Lulu, whom she had always considered her best friend, was 
on the way to the airport instead of on the way to Lola’s house. What a 
disappointment! 



or 



Lulu loved sky-diving more than Lola. Lola was fine for the first 409 
jumps, but then her enthusiasm began to flag. Lulu, on the other hand, 
was climbing into the airplane eagerly, as if it were her first jump of the 
day and as if the rattler had not crawled into her parachute on the last 
landing. 

See the problem? Lulu loved sky-diving more than Lola is incomplete. Your 
reader can understand the comparison in two different ways, as the two sto- 
ries illustrate. The rule here is simple: Don’t omit words that are necessary to 
the meaning of the comparison. 

WRONG: Lulu loved sky-diving more than Lola. 

RIGHT: Lulu loved sky-diving more than she loved Lola. 

ALSO RIGHT: Lulu loved sky-diving more than Lola did. 

One more time. What’s the problem now? 

“My life is the best,” explained Ratrug. 

This one is so easy that you don’t need stories. Best how? In money, fame, 
love, health, lack of body odor, winning lottery tickets, access to boy-band 
concerts? Ratrug’s friends may understand his statement, but no one else 
will. 




Remember: In making a comparison, be clear and complete. 
Which sentence is correct? 

A. My cat Agatha slapped her tail more quickly. 



B. My cat Agatha slapped her tail more quickly than Dorothy. 



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266 



Part IV: Polishing Without WaxmaTh&litne^ Points of Grammar 



Answer: Both are wrong. (Sorry! Trick question.) The meaning is unclear in 
both A and B. In sentence A, the reader is left asking more quickly than what? 
In sentence B, the sentence may mean my cat Agatha slapped her tail more 
quickly than she slapped Dorothy or my cat Agatha slapped her tail more 
quickly than Dorothy slapped the cat’s tail. Neither comparison is complete. 

Try another. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Felonia played that piano concerto as emotionally as Legghorn did, but 
with fewer mistakes. 

B. Felonia played that piano concerto just as emotionally, despite the fact 
that she has no real feeling for “The Homework Blues #3.” 

Answer: Sentence A is correct. In sentence B, the reader wonders about the 
basis of comparison for the emotions of Felonia’s playing. Did she play the 
concerto as emotionally as the other works on her program, such as “The 
Falling Piano Concerto ”? Or did she play the concerto as emotionally as 
Lochness, who has less technical skill but a deep-seated hatred of homework. 
Sentence A expresses the basis of comparison. 

Joe BiMayyio Played Better Than Any 
Baseball Player: lltoyicat Comparisons 

Before I start, here’s an explanation of the heading for those of you who (gasp 
of pity here) don’t like baseball. Joe DiMaggio was a baseball player. Actually, 
a great baseball player — one of the best, and a New York Yankee. So what’s 
wrong with the title sentence? It takes (gasp of astonishment) Joltin’ Joe out 
of the group of baseball players. It makes him (swoon of sorrow) a non- 
baseball player. To keep Joltin’ Joe in the sport, add other: 

WRONG: Joe DiMaggio played better than any baseball player. 

RIGHT: Joe DiMaggio played better than any other baseball player. 

ALSO RIGHT: The Yankees rule! (Sorry, can’t help myself. I’m a fan.) 

The rule for comparisons here is very simple: Use the word other or else 
when comparing someone or something to other members of the same 
group. Check out the following examples: 

WRONG: The star soprano of the Santa Lola Opera, Sarah Screema, sings 
louder than anyone in the cast. 

WHY IT’S WRONGwTMPkbnitefret ?n@Pkes it clear that Sarah is in the cast, 
but the comparison implies that she’s not in the cast. Illogical! 




WWW. €hdptet<20§ 6®t>d, Better, Best: Comparisons 267 



RIGHT: The star soprano of the Santa Lola Opera, Sarah Screema, sings 
louder than anyone else in the cast. 

WRONG: That robot short-circuits more frequently than any mechanical 
device. 

WHY IT’SWRONG: A robot is, by definition, a mechanical device, but the 
comparison takes the robot out of the group of mechanical devices. 

RIGHT: That robot short-circuits more frequently than any other mechani- 
cal device. 

Here’s another problem. Can you find it? 

Mudbud’s nose is longer than Legghorn. 

Okay, before you say anything, I should mention that Legghorn is tall — not 
skyscraper tall, but at least six-two. Now do you see what’s wrong with the 
sentence? Mudbud’s nose, a real tourist attraction for its length and width 
(not including the pimple at the end) is about four inches long. It is not longer 
than Legghorn. It is longer than Legghorn ’s nose. 

WRONG: Mudbud’s nose is longer than Legghorn. 

RIGHT: Mudbud’s nose is longer than Legghorn’s nose. 

ALSO RIGHT: Mudbud’s nose is longer than Legghorn’s. 

One more example: 

Ahab’s toe ring is as wide as Dmitri. 

I don’t think so. Dmitri is a fairly trim fellow, but even so his waist measures 
33 inches. If Ahab wore a toe ring that wide, no shoes would fit and walking 
would be a real adventure. Thus 

WRONG: Ahab’s toe ring is as wide as Dmitri. 

RIGHT: Ahab’s toe ring is as wide as Dmitri’s toe ring. 

ALSO RIGHT: Ahab’s toe ring is as wide as Dmitri’s. 

Here’s the bottom line: 

u 0 Make sure your comparisons are logical. 

u 0 Check to see that you have compared what you want to compare — two 
things that are at least remotely related. 

u 0 If the first part of the comparison involves a possessive noun or pro- 
noun (showing ownership), the second part of the comparison probably 
needs a possessive cMW: TO?^9^¥ffi6?fflation on possessive nouns, 
see Chapter 12. For more information on possessive pronouns, see 
Chapter 17. 




268 Part IV: Polishing Without W^—J^Jin^Pfli/its of Grammar 

Getting Tu/o for the Price of One: 

Double Comparisons 

No one will misunderstand you if you break this rule, but grammarians every- 
where will hunt you down and tsk-tsk you into outer space: When you’re 
making two comparisons at the same time, finish the first one before you 
begin the second. In other words, don’t say, 

Dubdub is as dumb, if not dumber than Elvin. 

In the previous sentence, you’re really trying to say two different things: 

1. Dubdub is as dumb as Elvin. 

2. Dubdub may be dumber than Elvin. 

First of all, and completely apart from grammar, you ought to make a deci- 
sion. As dumb as? Dumber than? Don’t leave your reader in suspense. Take 
the plunge and express your real opinion. Grammatically, you may sit on the 
fence, but only if you finish the first comparison before going on to number 
two. Here’s how you finish: 

Dubdub is as dumb as Elvin, if not dumber. 

What a difference an as makes! Now the sentence is complete after the word 
Elvin, so the //statement is an add-on, as it should be. In the incorrect ver- 
sion, you’re missing an as. (I did warn you that only grammarians would care, 
remember?) 



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Chapter 21 

Parallels Without the Lines 

* & m # -a # # ■* & -S -ft * * .y J/ ■>;- r> £ * ;■* # #i t «i * a * * • # a » * 4 

In This Chapter 

v Constructing parallel sentences 

► Being consistent in form, tense, and voice 
T* Using pairs of conjunctions correctly 

► Keeping comparisons parallel 



f 

m n art class you draw parallels. In math class you plot them on a graph. In 
grammar, you create parallel constructions. When I say parallel construc- 
tions, I’m not talking about lines that look like train tracks. I’m talking about 
the need for balance in speech and writing, the need to create sentences that 
aren’t lopsided. I’m talking about the reason Hamlet says, “To be or not to be” 
instead of “Being or not to be.” In this chapter, I show you how to avoid sev- 
eral everyday errors of parallelism, or what the hard-hatted grammarian calls 
faulty construction. 



Constructing Balanced Sentences 

Ludwig wanted with all his heart to find a bride who was smart, beautiful, 
and had millions of chukbloks, the currency of his native land. 

Not counting Ludwig’s matrimonial ideas, the sentence has another problem: 
It’s not parallel. Concentrate on the part of the sentence following the word 
was. Ludwig’s dream bride was supposed to have these characteristics: 

v* smart 

I t^ beautiful 

had millions of chukbloks 

Do you see that these three descriptions don’t match? The first two are 
adjectives. The third consists of a yerb (had) and an object ( millions ofchuk- 
bloks). (For more information on adjectives, see Chapter 8. For more informa- 
tion on verbs and objects, see Chapters 2 and 6.) But all three descriptions 




270 Part IV: Polishing Without WafcJfe^jflSKfcBHits of Grammar 



are doing the same job in the sentence — describing Ludwig’s dream bride. 
Because they’re doing the same job, they should match, at least in the gram- 
matical sense. Here’s one revised list: 



u 0 smart 
u 0 beautiful 
. u 0 rich in chukbloks 

v 0 nearsighted (I added this one because I’ve actually seen Ludwig.) 

And here’s another: 

v 0 intelligence 
v 0 beauty 

v 0 millions of chukbloks 
bad eyesight 

Both lists are fine. In the first set, all the characteristics of Ludwig’s bride are 
adjectives. In the second set, all the characteristics are nouns. You can use 
either list. Just don’t take some elements from one and some from another. 
Here are the revised sentences: 



Ludwig wanted with all his heart to find a bride who was smart, beautiful, 
nearsighted, and rich in chukbloks, the currency of his native land. 

Ludwig wanted with all his heart to find a bride with intelligence, beauty, 
bad eyesight, and millions of chukbloks, the currency of his native land. 

Now for another lopsided sentence. Can you spot the problem? 

To visit the stately dome, swimming the sacred river Alph, and becoming 
CEO of Kubla Khan, Inc. were Ludwig’s goals. 

Perhaps a list will help you. Ludwig’s goals are as follows: 



v 0 to visit the stately dome 
u 0 swimming the sacred river Alph 
v 0 becoming CEO of Kubla Khan, Inc. 

Which one doesn’t match? To visit the stately dome. 




To visit is an infinitive, but the next two items in the list are not. Swimming 
and becoming are gerunds. Gerunds and infinitives are all verbals — forms of 
a verb that don’t function as verbs in the sentence. For more information on 
verbals, see chapter W watchtvsitcoms com 




www.watch tGhaptef c21 : Parallels Without the Lines 



All three of Ludwig’s goals are subjects of the sentence. Because they’re 
doing the same job in the sentence, they should be the same grammatically. 
Here are two possible corrections: 

v* visiting the stately dome 

swimming the sacred river Alph 
<> becoming CEO of Kubla Khan, Inc. 

or 

j> to visit the stately dome 
v* to swim the sacred river Alph 
to become CEO of Kubla Khan, Inc. 

Here are the two corrected sentences: 



To visit the stately dome, to swim the sacred river Alph, and to become 
CEO of Kubla Khan, Inc. were Ludwig’s goals. 

Visiting the stately dome, swimming the sacred river Alph, and becoming 
the CEO of Kubla Khan, Inc. were Ludwig’s goals. 




Items in a sentence with the same job (function) should have the same gram- 
matical identity. Whenever you have more than one subject, object, verb, or 
other element of the sentence, make a list and check it twice, whether or not 
you believe in Santa Claus. 

Here are some additional examples: 



NOT PARALLEL: Analivia said that whenever anything went wrong, when- 
ever someone let us down, or in case of disaster, she would “feel our 
pain.” 

WHAT’S WRONG: The three things that Analivia said are not parallel. Two 
have subject-verb combinations ( anything went, someone let), and one 
(in case of disaster) does not. 

PARALLEL: Analivia said that whenever anything went wrong, whenever 
someone let us down, or whenever disaster struck, she would “feel our 
pain.” 

WHY IT’S PARALLEL: Now the three things that Analivia said are all 
subject-verb combinations. 

ALSO PARALLEL: Analivia said that in the event of mistakes, disloyalty, or 
disaster, she would “feel our pain.” 

WHY IT’S PARALLELyWbW / ffS^ t thte|g 1 ^ha i r i Analivia said are all expressed 
as nouns: mistakes, disloyalty, disaster. 




272 Part IV: Polishing Without Wafc w TfefiJiifl^ ! P ( flHits of Grammar 

Try another set: 

NOT PARALLEL: Eggworthy, a gourmet cook and renowned for his deli- 
cious no-cholesterol omelets, thinks that French cooking is “overrated.” 

WHAT’S WRONG: The and joins two descriptions of Eggworthy. One is a 
noun (cook) and one is a verb form (renowned for his delicious no choles- 
terol omelets). 

PARALLEL: Eggworthy, a gourmet cook renowned for his delicious no- 
cholesterol omelets, thinks that French cooking is “overrated.” 

WHY IT’S PARALLEL: Once you remove the and, the problem is solved. 

Now the descriptive verb form (renowned) describes the noun (cook ). 

Which is correct? 

A. Ludwig found the honeymoon suite restful, exotic, tasteful, and in the 
less-populated section of his kingdom. 

B. Ludwig found the honeymoon suite restful, exotic, and tasteful. It was 
located in the less-populated section of his kingdom. 

C. Ludwig found the honeymoon suite restful, exotic, tasteful, and remote. 

Answer: Sentences B and C are correct. If you list the qualities of Ludwig’s 
honeymoon suite as expressed in sentence A, you have 

v 0 restful 
v* exotic 
u* tasteful 

u* in the less-populated section of his kingdom 

The first three are adjectives, but the last is a prepositional phrase. (For more 
information about prepositional phrases, see Chapter 9.) Because they don’t 
match, the sentence is not parallel. In sentence B, the three adjectives are 
alone in one sentence. The prepositional phrase is in its very own sentence. 
Sentence C expresses all the characteristics of Ludwig’s honeymoon suite as 
adjectives. 

To avoid parallelism errors, you don’t have to know the correct grammatical 
terms. Even without the fancy grammatical names, the list shows you the odd 
man out. Just use your common sense and listen. A parallel sentence has bal- 
ance. A non-parallel sentence doesn’t. 





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Shifting Grammar into Gear: Avoiding 
Stalled Sentences 

If you’ve ever ridden in a car with a stick shift, you know that smooth transi- 
tions are rare (at least when I’m driving). If something is just a little off, the 
car bucks like a mule. The same thing is true in sentences. You can, at times, 
shift in tense, voice, or person, but even the slightest mistake stalls your sen- 
tence. In this section, I explain how to avoid unnecessary shifts and how to 
check your sentence for consistency. 



Steering clear of a tense situation 

Check out this sentence with multiple verbs: 

Ludwig begs Ludmilla to marry him, offers her a crown and a private 
room, and finally won her hand. 

Now make a list of the verbs in the sentence: 

begs 
v* offers 
v 0 won 

The first two verbs are in present tense, but the third shifts into past for no 
valid reason. Stall! If the verbs in this sentence were gears in a stick shift, your 
car would conk out. All three verbs should be in present tense or all three 
should be in past tense. Here are the corrected versions of the sentence: 

Ludwig begs Ludmilla to marry him, offers her a crown and a private 
room, and finally wins her hand. (All three verbs are in present tense.) 



or 



Ludwig begged Ludmilla to marry him, offered her a crown and a private 
room, and finally won her hand. (All three verbs are in past tense.) 

Sometimes in telling a story, you must shift tense because the action of the 
story requires a change in time. For example: 

Felonia always practices for at least ten hours a day, unless she is giving a 
concert. Last week she flew to Antarctica for a recital. When she arrived, 
the piano was /mzewwNevdr bheltessg ihens ho w went on. Next week Felonia 
will practice twelve hours a day to make up for the time she lost last week. 




>74 Part IV: Polishing Without Waxwwwllft^iBfeErP^Irt? of Grammar 



Felonia’s story has present (practices), present progressive (is giving), past 
(f lew, arrived, was frozen, went, lost), and future tenses (will practice). Each 
change of tense is justified by the information in the story. (For more infor- 
mation on verb tense, see Chapters 3 and 18.) Here are some additional 
examples of justified and unjustified shifts in verb tense: 

WRONG: Ratrug slips on the ice, and after obsessively checking every 
inch of his skull in the mirror, decided that had hurt his head. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: The first verb is in present tense. The sentence shifts 
to past tense for no reason. 

RIGHT: Ratrug slipped on the ice, and after obsessively checking every 
inch of his skull in the mirror, decided that he had hurt his head. 



SENTENCE THAT LOOKS WRONG BUT ISN’T: Murgatroyd needs a loan 
because he bet his entire paycheck on a horse that came in first in the 
eighth race. (Unfortunately, the horse was running in the seventh race.) 

WHY IT LOOKS WRONG: The first verb is in present tense, and the next 
two are in past tense. 




WHY IT’S RIGHT: Both tenses are justified. The first part talks about 
Murgatroyd now, explaining his present condition with a reference to the 
past. The shift is acceptable because the meaning of the sentence makes 
the shift necessary 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Eggworthy scrambled to the finish line a nano-second before the next 
fastest racer and then raised his arms in victory. 



B. Eggworthy scrambles to the finish line a nano-second before the next 
fastest racer and then raises his arms in victory. 



Answer: Both sentences are correct. (Don’t you hate trick questions?) In sen- 
tence A, both scrambled and raised are in past tense. No shift, no problem. In 
sentence B, both scrambles and raises are in present tense. Again, no shift, 
again no problem. 



Keeping your Voice steady 

The voice of a verb — not baritones and tenors — is either active or passive. 
(For more information on voice, see Chapter 18.) Like tense, the voice of the 
verbs in a sentence should be consistent unless there’s a good reason for a 
shift. I should point out that a shift in voice is not a grammar felony; think 
misdemeanor or maybe even parking ticket. Nevertheless, avoid unnecessary 
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WWW w a trhtvc;Ghaptek21: Parallels Without the Lines 275 



shifts if you can do so without writing yourself into a corner. Here’s a sen- 
tence with an unjustified shift in voice: 

Ludwig polished the diamond engagement ring, rechecked the certificate 
of authenticity, and was completely demolished when his intended bride 
said no. 

Do you see the problem? A checklist makes it obvious: 

u 0 polished 
u 0 rechecked 
u 0 was demolished 
said 

The first two verbs and the last one are in active voice, but the third is in pas- 
sive voice. 

A number of changes can take care of the problem: 

Ludwig polished the diamond engagement ring, rechecked the certificate 
of authenticity, and cried like a baby when his intended bride said no. 



or 



Ludwig polished the diamond engagement ring and rechecked the certifi- 
cate of authenticity. His intended bride completely demolished him with 
her refusal. 



ftUIZ 



Notice that the list of verbs in the corrected sentences are all in active voice: 
polished, rechecked, cried and polished, rechecked, demolished. 

Which is correct? 






A. Lulu popped the cork from the champagne, reached for the chilled 
glasses, and was shocked to learn that the caviar had been confiscated 
by customs officials. 



B. Lulu popped the cork from the champagne, reached for the chilled 
glasses, and was shocked to learn that customs officials had confiscated 
the caviar. 



C. Lulu popped the cork from the champagne, reached for the chilled 
glasses, and staggered in shock when she heard that customs officials 
had confiscated the caviar. 



Answer: Sentence C is best because all of the verbs (popped, reached, stag- 
gered, heard, and had c dWfVs § Tl? ■ §?T1 ve voice. 





Part IV: Polishing Without Wax— of Grammar 



Knowing the right person 

Ah, loyalty. One of the most celebrated virtues, in life as well as in grammar! 
Loyalty in grammar relates to consistency of person. You shouldn’t start out 
talking about one person and then switch to another in a sentence, unless 
you have a valid reason for doing so. Here’s an example of an unnecessary 
shift in person: 

To celebrate his marriage, Ludwig promised amnesty to all the bigamists 
currently in his jails because you need to do something spectacular on 
such occasions. 

The first part of the sentence talks about Ludwig. The second part of the sen- 
tence, which begins with the word because, shifts to you. Making the correc- 
tion is simple: 

To celebrate his marriage, Ludwig promised amnesty to all the bigamists 
currently in his jails because he needs to do something spectacular on 
such occasions. 



To celebrate his marriage, Ludwig promised amnesty to all the bigamists 
currently in his jails because everyone needs to do something spectacu- 
lar on such occasions. 



To celebrate his marriage, Ludwig promised amnesty to all the bigamists 
currently in his jails because rulers need to do something spectacular on 
such occasions. 

All three of the preceding sentences are correct. Why? In the first, Ludwig is 
the subject of the first part of the sentence, and he is the subject of the 
second part. No problem. The second and third corrections are a bit more 
complicated. Grammarians refer to three persons. In first person, the subject 
narrates the story: In other words, I or we acts as the subject of the sentence. 
In second person, the subject is being spoken to, and you (either singular or 
plural) is the subject. In third person, the subject is being spoken about, using 
he, she, it, they, or any other word that talks about someone or something. In 
the second correction, Ludwig (third person) is matched with everyone (a 
third person pronoun). In the third correction example, Ludwig is matched 
with rulers, a noun. 

Here is another example: 

WRONG: / am of those coins; you can’t pass up 

a chance for free money! 




www.watchtv s^g^fgl: Parallels Without the Lines 271 



WHY IT IS WRONG: The first part of the sentence is in first person (I) and 
the second part of the sentence shifts to you, the second person form. 
Why shift? 

RIGHT: / am planning to pick up some of those coins; / can’t pass up a 
chance for free money! 



Make sure your sentences are consistent in person. Unless there’s a logical 
reason to shift, follow these guidelines: 




u* If you begin with first person ( I or me), stay in first person. 

u 0 If you begin with second person (you), stay in second person. 

u* If you begin with third person, talking about someone or something, 
make sure that you continue to talk about someone or something. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Whenever a person breaks a grammar rule, you get into trouble. 

B. Whenever a person breaks a grammar rule, he or she gets into trouble. 

C. Whenever a person breaks a grammar rule, they get into trouble. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. A person matches he or she because both talk 
about someone. In sentence A, a person does not match you. Sentence A 
shifts from third to second person for no logical reason. Sentence C stays in 
third person, talking about someone, but a person is singular and they is 
plural — a mismatch. (For more information on singular and plural pronouns, 
see Chapter 10.) 



Try one more. Which is correct? 



A. Everybody loves somebody sometime because all you need is love. 

B. Everybody loves somebody sometime because all anybody needs is 
love. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. Sentence A shifts from third person (every- 
body) to second (you) with no reason other than a pathetic attempt to quote 
song lyrics. Sentence B stays in third person (everybody, anybody). 



Seeing Double: Conjunction Pairs 



Most joining words fly solo. Single words — and, but, nor, or, because, 
although, since, and so P arts of sentences. Some join- 

ing words, however, come in pairs. (In grammarspeak, joining words are 




275 Part IV: Polishing Without Wax^Th^Fhi^i^oiiits of Grammar 



called conjunctions. Double conjunctions are called correlatives .) Here are 
some of the most frequently used double conjunctions: 

not only/but also 
v 0 either/or 
neither/nor 
v 0 whether/or 
v 0 both/and 




Some of these words show up in sentences without their partners. No prob- 
lem! Sometimes they show up and don’t act as conjunctions. Again, no prob- 
lem. Just make sure that when they do act as conjunctions, they behave 
properly. Here’s the rule: Whatever fills in the blanks after these pairs of 
conjunctions must match. The conjunctions have partners, and so do the 
things they join. You may join two nouns, two sentences, two prepositional 
phrases — two whatevers! Just make sure the things that you join match. 
Check out this example: 



Not only Ludwig but also his bride yearned for a day at the beach. (The 
conjunction pair joins two nouns, Ludwig and his bride.j 




Either you or I must break the news about the backhoe encounter to 
Ludwig. (The conjunction pair joins two pronouns, you and /.) 

Nouns and pronouns are equals when it comes to parallelism. Because pro- 
nouns take the place of nouns, you may mix them without ill effect: 

Neither Murgatroyd nor he has brought a proper present to Ludwig’s 
wedding. (The conjunction pair joins a noun, Murgatroyd, and a 
pronoun, he.) 



Here’s another example: 



* 



ir 



m 



Both because he stole the garter and because he lost the ring, Lochness is 
no longer welcome as best man. (This conjunction pair joins two subject- 
verb combinations.) 

Because he stole the garter and because he lost the ring are subordinate adver- 
bial clauses. For more information on clauses, see Chapter 24. 



To help you spot parallelism errors in sentences with conjunction pairs, here 
are a few mismatches, along with their corrections: 



NOT PARALLEL: Either Lulu will go with Ludwig to the bachelor party or to 
the shower, but 




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WHY IT’S NOT PARALLEL: The first italicized section is a subject-verb 
combination. The second italicized section is a prepositional phrase. 

PARALLEL: Lulu will go with Ludwig either to the bachelor party or to the 
shower, but she will not attend both. (Now both are prepositional 
phrases.) 



NOT PARALLEL: Both her lateness and that she was dressed in white 
leather insulted the royal couple. 

WHY IT’S NOT PARALLEL: First italicized section is a noun, but the 
second is a subject-verb combination. 



PARALLEL: Both the fact that she was late and the fact that she was dressed 
in white leather insulted the royal couple. (Now the italicized sections are 
both subject-verb combinations.) 




PARALLEL: Both her lateness and her white leather clothing insulted the 
royal couple. (Now the italicized sections are both nouns.) 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lulu neither needled Ludwig nor his bride about the fact that Mrs. 
Ludwig has a slight but noticeable moustache. 



B. Lulu needled neither Ludwig nor his bride about the fact that Mrs. 
Ludwig has a slight but noticeable moustache. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. In sentence A, neither precedes a verb (nee- 
dled) but nor precedes a noun (his bride). In sentence B, neither precedes a 
noun (Ludwig) and so does nor (his bride). 

Try another. Which sentence is correct? 

A. Both the way she danced and the way she sang convinced Legghorn to 
award Lola a starring role in Legghorn’s new musical, The Homework 
Blues. 

B. Both the way she danced and her superb singing convinced Legghorn to 
award Lola a starring role in Legghorn’s new musical, The Homework 
Blues. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. In sentence B, the first half of the conjunction 
pair (both) is followed by a noun (way) and then a subject-verb combination 
(she danced). The second part of the conjunction pair (and) is followed only 
by a noun (singing). In sentence A, a noun-subject-verb combination (the 
way she danced, the way she sang) follows both parts of the conjunction pair. 



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At/oidmg Improper Comparisons 

The grammar police will arrive, warrant in hand, if your comparisons aren’t 
parallel. Comparisons to watch out for include the following: 

more/than 
v 0 but not 
v 0 as well as 

Comparisons with these words are tricky but not impossible. Just be sure 
that the elements you are comparing match grammatically. Check out these 
examples: 

Lulu was more conservative than daring in her choice of clothes for 
Ludwig’s wedding. 

Even so, Ludwig liked the way Lulu moved but not the way she looked. 

Lulu enjoyed the ceremonial dancing as well as the ritual bonfire. 

The italicized words in each sentence pair off nicely. In the first sample sen- 
tence, conservative and daring are both descriptions. In the second sample 
sentence, the way Lulu moved and the way she looked are similar construc- 
tions — nouns described by adjective clauses, if you absolutely must know. 

In the third sample sentence, dancing and bonfire are both nouns. 

To illustrate parallel comparisons further, here are some incorrect and cor- 
rected pairs: 

WRONG: Lola sang more forcefully than with the correct notes. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: forcefully and with the correct notes don’t match. 
RIGHT: Lola sang more forcefully than correctly. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: The sentence compares two adverbs. 

Here’s another example: 

WRONG: Ludmilla assumed that she would live in a separate castle but not 
spending every hour with Ludwig. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: The words but not join a subject-verb combination 
and verb form. 

RIGHT: Ludmilla assumed that she would live in a separate castle but not 
that she would spend every hour with Ludwig. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: Thevs^t^ftf^vgi^ptiWtwo subject-verb combinations. 




282 Part IV: Polishing Without of Grammar 





A question may have occurred to you: How do you know how many words of 
the sentence are being joined? In other words, in the preceding sample sen- 
tences, how do you know how much to italicize? The decision comes from 
the meaning of the sentence. Forget grammar for a moment and put yourself 
into reading comprehension mode. What are you comparing? Decide what 
you’re comparing based on the ideas in the sentence. Now check the two 
ideas being compared and go back into grammar mode. Do the ideas match 
grammatically? If so, you’re fine. If not, reword your sentence. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Legghorn told Ratrug that the ceremony was canceled but not that the 
couple planned to elope. 



B. Legghorn told Ratrug that the ceremony was canceled but not about the 
elopement. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. That the ceremony was canceled matches that 
the couple planned to elope. In sentence B, that the ceremony was canceled has 
a subject-verb pair, but about the elopement is a prepositional phrase with no 
subject-verb pair. 



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PartV 

Rules Even Your 
Great-Aunt's 
Grammar Teacher 
Didn't Know 



The 5 th Wave By Rich Tennant 






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In this part . . . 



m earned philosophers in the Middle Ages used to argue 
M about the number of angels that could fit on the head 
of a pin. That debate was only a little less complicated 
than the grammar rules in this part. Chapter 22 explains 
the moods of verbs (yes, they have moods). Chapter 23 
shows you how to choose the proper pronoun for all sorts 
of weird sentences. The next chapter deals with the inner 
workings of the sentence — dependent and independent 
clauses and verbals. Chapter 25 gives you a master’s 
degree in punctuation. 



Bottom line: If you want to learn some of the pickiest 
grammar rules ever devised, this part’s for you. 



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Chapter 22 

The Last Word on Verbs 



In This Chapter 

Getting in touch with your indicative mood 
Commanding the imperative 

Writing subjunctive verbs for conditions contrary to fact 
Avoiding common double-negative constructions 



Murgatroyd stomps in, slams the door, and grabs the remote. As he raises 
the volume on the wrestling match to supersonic level, Lola asks politely, 
“Is anything wrong?” In reply, Murgatroyd lowers his eyebrows to the tip 
of his nose and glares silently. Lola shrugs and goes out to spread the 
word: Murgatroyd is in one of his Moods. Beware. 



M Serbs have moods too, but they’re a lot more polite about showing them 
yr than Murgatroyd. A little change of form, and presto, the verb is in a dif- 
ferent mood. 

Modern English has three basic moods of verbs: indicative, imperative, and 
subjunctive. Indicative is the most common; the two other moods — 
imperative and subjunctive — enter speech and writing only occasionally. In 
this chapter, I give you the lowdown on these three verb types so you’re sure 
to know the mood of any verb without consulting a mind reader. 

Getting a Feet for Everyday Verbs: 

The Indicative Mood 

Almost all verbs are in indicative mood. Indicative is the everyday, this-is- 
what-I’m-saying mood, good for questions and statements. All the lessons 
about verbs in this book — aside from those later in this chapter — discuss 
verbs in the indicative ro^d/.a(3!1tMsitf2^?.byTthe way, is totally useless. Forget 
it immediately.) 




>86 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-AHg'slytSMIiWsSfflcher Didn't Know 

Think of indicative verbs as the permanent cast of a TV show. They are 
always around and are familiar to everyone. 

The indicative verbs are italicized in the following sentences: 




Felonia displayed her musical range when she played a Bach concerto and 
a heavy-metal hit in the same concert. 

Ludwig will be the principal tenant of the honeymoon hotel as soon as 
Ludmilla agrees to marry him. 

Eggworthy often dreams about bacon. 



Commanding \lour Verbs: 

The Imperative Mood 

Don’t worry about imperatives; they’re fairly simple. Imperative verbs give 
commands. Most imperative verbs don’t have a written (or spoken) subject. 
Instead, the subject in an imperative (command) sentence is you-understood. 
The word you usually does not appear before the imperative verb. The reader 
or listener simply understands that you is implied. 

Here are a few examples to get you thinking: 



Eat a balanced diet. 

Climb every mountain. 

Calculate the odds. 

No matter what happens, hit the road. 




Fake a sincere smile and you’ve got it made. 



Rising to the occasion 



Rise and raise are two very confusing verbs. Here's another way to think about these two 

Rise means "to stand," "to get out of bed," or words: Rise is a self-contained action. The sub- 

"to move to a higher rank" under one's own ject acts upon him- or herself. Raise is an action 

power. Raise means "to lift something or some- that begins with one person (or thing) and 

one else up" or "to bring up children or ani- moves to another person or thing. You rise by 

mals." In other words, Eggworthy rises yourself; you raise someone or something else, 

whenever any sort of poultry enters the room. 

He raises roosters on his farm. Whe^nftStdfitvsitcoms.com 
too low, Eggworthy raises \t to a higher shelf. 



www.waichivsiicoi^h^Bter 22: The Last Word on Verbs 28 7 




Think of imperative verbs as recurring guest stars on a sitcom, the charac- 
ters who show up every three or four episodes just to add a little flavor to 
the mix. 

There’s almost nothing you can do wrong in creating an imperative sentence, 
so this topic is a free pass. Go fishing, or if you’re in the mood to torture 
yourself, move on to the subjunctive. 



Discovering the Possibilities: 

The Subjunctive Mood 

Headache time! The subjunctive mood is rare, but it draws errors like a 
magnet. Master this topic and you’ll qualify for the title “Grammarian of the 
Year.” Subjunctive verbs show up when you state something that is contrary 
to fact. They may also express indirect commands and wishes. I tackle each 
of these situations in the following sections. 

Subjunctive verbs make only a few cameo appearances. Like a pampered 
superstar, a subjunctive shows up only when the situation is exactly right. 



Using subjunctives urith “Were" 

Tevye, the main character in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, sings “If I Were a 
Rich Man” with the sadness of a man who knows that he’ll never be anything 
but poor. Tevye ’s song is about a condition contrary to fact — something that 
is not true. Take note of the verb in the title: were. Normally (that is to say, in 
an indicative sentence) the subject-verb pair would be I was. But Tevye sings 
If I were because he isn’t a rich man. The verb were is in subjunctive mood. 





Unless someone is going to quiz you on it, don’t worry about the terminology. 
Just know that if you’re expressing a condition contrary to fact, you need the 
verb were for present and future ideas. (Past tense is different. See the next 
section, “Using subjunctives with ‘had.’”) Here are some examples of present 
and future tense: 



SUBJUNCTIVE: If Lochness were an honorable spy, he would not reveal 
the atomic secret hidden in the bean burrito. 

WHY IT’S SUBJUNCTIVE: Lochness is not an honorable spy, and he’s 
going to blab the secret. 

WHAT THE NORMAL SUBJECT-VERB PAIR WOULD BE: Lochness was. 

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SUBJUNCTIVE: If Analivia were less talented in mathematics, she would 
have taken fewer algebra courses. 




>88 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-%tt'§,^nro^J^cher Didn't Know 



WHY IT’S SUBJUNCTIVE: Analivia’s a math genius, the kind of student 
who always says that the test was “so hard” and then wrecks the curve 
with a 96. 

WHAT THE NORMAL SUBJECT-VERB PAIR WOULD BE: Analivia was. 



To sum up, in subjunctive sentences, were is usually all you need (unlike in 
the Beatles’ song, when love is all you need). Here are a few details about 
subjunctive for present or future statements of conditions contrary to fact: 



u 0 Use were for all subjects in the part of the sentence that expresses what 
is not true. (If she were entranced by Ratrug’s explanation.) 

v 0 For the other part of the sentence, use the helping verb would. (Lola 
would stare at him in silence.) 

u 0 Never use the helping verb would in the untrue part of the sentence. For 
example: 

WRONG: If I would have been president, I would ask the Martian colony 
to secede. 

RIGHT: If I were president, I would ask the Martian colony to secede. 



WRONG: Murgatroyd acted as though he would have been grammarian- 
in-chief. 




RIGHT: Murgatroyd acted as though he were grammarian-in-chief. 
Which sentence is correct? 

A. Ludmilla would have been happier if she would have been in the 
Marines. 



B. Ludmilla would have been happier if she were in the Marines. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. The //part of the sentence contains a subjunc- 
tive verb (were) because it expresses something that is not true. The //part 
of the sentence should never contain the helping verb would. 



Using subjunctives With “had" 

The other subjunctive that pops up from time to time is created with the 
helping verb had. For past tense sentences, the had belongs in the part of the 
sentence that is contrary to fact. The contrary-to-fact (that is, the lie) part of 
the sentence may begin with if, or the //may be understood. 



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m Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Aun^Sr^MarfMCher Didn't Know 



SUBJUNCTIVE WITH THE WORD IF: If Ludwig had married less often, he 
would have enjoyed the ceremony more. 

SUBJUNCTIVE WITHOUT THE WORD IF: Had Ludwig married less often, 
he would have enjoyed the ceremony more. 

WHY IT’S SUBJUNCTIVE: Ludwig has been married more times than he 
can count. 




WHAT THE NORMAL SUBJECT-VERB PAIR WOULD BE: Ludwig has married. 
Which sentence is correct? 

A. If Felonia would have played the tuba, the gang would have listened to 
her CD more often. 



B. If Felonia had played the tuba, the gang would have listened to her CD 
more often. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. Felonia played the piano, not the tuba, so sub- 
junctive is appropriate. The word would is never part of an //statement. 



Using subjunctives With "as though" 

Sometimes conditions contrary to fact are expressed using the words as 
though. Check out the following: 

SUBJUNCTIVE: Eggworthy hurtled through the air as though giant metal 
devices had intended to scramble him. 

WHY IT’S SUBJUNCTIVE: Eggworthy was not being pursued by giant egg- 
beaters. He was actually hurtling through the air because Murgatroyd 
was in a bad mood, and Eggworthy was trying to escape on a skateboard 
with one bad wheel. 

WHAT THE NORMAL SUBJECT-VERB PAIR WOULD BE: Giant metal 
devices intended. 



Using subjunctives With commands. 

Wishes, and reguests 

Ludwig loves to exercise his royal power: 

His Majesty decrees that all his subjects be counted and then beheaded. 

His Majesty asks that the governor of each province climb the nearest Alp 
and jump off the to t, ww watchtvsitcoms com 

His Majesty further insists that his favorite wedding planner remain in the 
palace. 




www.waichtvsi tjmftgj. 22: The Last Word on Verbs 29 7 



When "if" isn't subjunctive 



As you're reading about the subjunctive if, you 
may think that all sentences with the word if 
need a subjunctive verb. Nope. Some if sen- 
tences don't express a condition contrary to 
fact; they express a possibility, something that 
may happen. The if sentences that express a 
possibility take a plain old, normal, indicative 
verb. Here are some examples: 

NON-SUBJUNCTIVE IF SENTENCE: If 
Lochness goes to prison, he will take a bur- 
rito cookbook with him. 

WHY IT'S NOT SUBJUNCTIVE: Prison is a 
possibility. 



NON-SUBJUNCTIVE IF SENTENCE: If 
Ludwig divorces, he will remarry within a 
year. 

WHY IT'S NOT SUBJUNCTIVE: Divorce is a 
possibility. In fact Ludwig is already looking 
around. 

In an if sentence, if something is possible, use a 
normal, everyday verb to say it. If something is 
untrue, use a subjunctive verb. 



The italicized verbs are all subjunctive. These sentences need subjunctives 
because they express wishes, requests, or indirect commands. (Commands 
that are given directly to the person who is supposed to follow them are in 
imperative mood. See “ Commanding Your Verbs: The Imperative Mood,” ear- 
lier in this chapter.) 

In the previous sample sentences, the normal subject-verb pairs (the indica- 
tive pairs) would be subjects are, governor climbs, wedding planner remains. In 
these subjunctive sentences, all subjects take the same form of the verb — the 
infinitive minus the to. (For more information on infinitives, see Chapter 2.) 
Thus you have 

to sleep: subjunctive = sleep 
to slobber: subjunctive = slobber 
to sneak: subjunctive = sneak 



and so forth. 




In everyday communication, many speakers of perfectly good English avoid 
the subjunctive and use an infinitive or the helping verb should instead. Here 
are Ludwig’s requests, with infinitives or should instead of subjunctive verbs: 

His Majesty wants his subjects to be counted and then beheaded. 



His Majesty says that province should climb the 

nearest Alp and jump off the top. 



His Majesty wants his favorite wedding planner to remain in the palace. 







292 Part V: Rules Even Your GreaMtrm%^r^rmaPTeacher Didn't Know 



Try and figure these out: Verbs and infinitives 

Nowthat you've read the heading above, do you 
see what's wrong with it? Try and means that 
you are going to do two different things: f/y(first 
task) and figure out (second task). But you don't 
have two tasks in mind, do you? Try and is a 
common expression, but not a correct one. 

Here's what you really mean: fry to figure this 
one out. Try to follows the normal English pat- 
tern of a verb and an infinitive: 

Lochness plans to go to the moon next 
week, (plans = verb, to go = infinitive) 

Ludmilla likes to speak in monosyllables. 

(likes =ve rb, to speak = infinitive) 



Which sentence is correct? 

A. Ludwig requests that his honeymoon attendants are paid by the hour. 

B. Ludwig requests that his honeymoon attendants be paid by the hour. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. The subjunctive verb (be) expresses the 
request. (The infinitive to be minus the to equals subjunctive.) 



Using subjunctives With "let us" 

Have you been to church lately? If so, perhaps the religious leader said, “Let 
us pray” or “Let us sing all 5,987 verses of hymn #2.” The let us sentence is 
actually in subjunctive mood. Follow let us with the subjunctive form of the 
verb: the infinitive minus the word to. In each of the following examples, the 
subjunctive verb is italicized: 

Let us gather together. 

Let us eat salad. 

Let us ban iceberg lettuce from Shakey’s salad. 




Ratrug hates to cry in public, (hates = verb, 
to cry= infinitive) 

By the way, infinitives look like verbs, but they 
never act as verbs in the sentence. In the 
sample sentences above, all the infinitives are 
direct objects. (For more information on direct 
objects, see Chapter 6; for more information on 
infinitives, see Chapter 24.) 

Let me sum up: Try to remember the verb- 
infinitive rule and try to forget about try and. 




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vmw.watchtvsitfifraBSfif 2 2 The Last Word on Verbs 293 




If you’ve read all the preceding sections on the subjunctive mood, by now 
you’re probably in a mood yourself — a bad mood. Take heart! Although it 
may seem as if the subjunctive were all over the English language, in reality 
you need it only occasionally. If you speak another language — Spanish or 
French, for example — you’ve probably noticed by now that the subjunctive 
is a much bigger deal and far more common in those languages. One last 
thought: If the rules for subjunctive in this chapter seem overwhelming, 
forget about them. The grammar police won’t execute you if you completely 
ignore the subjunctive. Many literate, educated people work around it, and 
errors of the subjunctive are not nearly so serious as, say, jaywalking. 



1 Can't Hetp But Think This Bute Is 
Crazy: Deleting boubie Negatives 

In some lucky languages, the more negatives the better. In English, however, 
two negatives are a no-no. (By the way, no-no is not a double negative! It’s just 
slang for something that’s prohibited.) I explain several basic forms of double 
negatives in Chapter 8. Here I tell you about some of the less obvious forms 
of double trouble. 

One of the most common double negatives doesn’t look like one: cannot help 
but. How many times have you heard someone say something like 

Eggworthy cannot help but act in that dramatic style because he was 
trained by a real ham. 

Sometimes, help is left out: 

Eggworthy cannot but think that it is his job to bring home the bacon. 

Unfortunately, both of these sentences are wrong because they both contain 
double negatives. The not and the but both express negative ideas. Use one or 
the other. Don’t use both. Here are the correct versions: 

Eggworthy cannot help acting in that dramatic style because he was 
trained by a real ham. 

Eggworthy can but think that it is his job to bring home the bacon. 



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2n Part V: Rules Even Your Great-^J^mffl^Jeacher Didn’t Know 



This last sentence sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The next version is much 
better: 

Eggworthy can think only that it is his job to bring home the bacon. 



or 



Eggworthy cannot help thinking that it is his job to bring home the bacon. 
You can also write 

Eggworthy thinks that it is his job to bring home the bacon. 

Ironically, in English two negatives make a positive. So when you say cannot 
help but, you actually convey the opposite of what you imagine you’re saying 
(or writing). For example: 

Ratrug told his boss, “I cannot help but ask for a raise.” 

WHAT HE THINKS HE SAID: I have to ask for a raise. 

WHAT HE REALLY SAID: I can’t ask for a raise. 




The boss told Ratrug, “I cannot help but say no.” 

WHAT THE BOSS THINKS SHE SAID: No. 

WHAT THE BOSS ACTUALLY SAID: Yes. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. I cannot help but think that this double negative rule is ridiculous. 

B. I cannot help thinking that this double negative rule is ridiculous. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct. Also, the idea of the sentence is correct! The 
double negative rule is dumb. 



Can’t Hardly Understand This Rule: 
l/et Another Double Negative 

No matter what you do, avoid saying or writing can’t hardly when you are 
using formal English. Can ’t is short for cannot, which contains the negative 
not. Hardly is another negative word. If you combine them, by the logic of 



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www.watchtvsit dGhapter 22: The Last Word on Verbs 



grammar, you’ve said the opposite of what you intended — the positive 
instead of the negative. Here are a few examples: 

Legghorn commented, “Lulu can’t hardly count her tattoos.” 

WHAT LEGGHORN THINKS HE SAID: Lulu can’t count her tattoos. 

WHAT LEGGHORN ACTUALLY SAID: Lulu can count her tattoos. 

According to Lola, Ludmilla can’t hardly wait until her divorce becomes 
final. 

WHAT THE WRITER THINKS THE SENTENCE MEANS: Ludmilla is eager for 
her divorce to become final. 

WHAT THE SENTENCE ACTUALLY MEANS: Ludmilla can wait. (The palace 
is comfy and Ludwig isn’t around very much.) 

A variation of this double negative is can ’t scarcely, aren ’t scarcely, or isn 't 
scarcely. Once again, can ’t is short for cannot, clearly a negative. Aren ’t and 
isn ’t are the negative forms of are and is. Scarcely is also negative. Use them 
together and you end up with a positive, not a super-negative. 

Here’s another double negative, in a couple of forms: hadn’t only, haven’t only, 
hasn ’t only, hadn ’t but, haven ’t but, and hasn ’t but. All express positive ideas 
because the not (n’t) part of the verb and the only or but are both negatives: 

WRONG: Agwamp hadn ’t but ten seconds to defuse the bomb before civi- 
lization as we know it ended. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: As it reads now, the sentence says that Agwamp had 
more than ten seconds to defuse the bomb, but the little red numbers on 
the trigger were at seven and decreasing rapidly. 

RIGHT: Agwamp had but ten seconds to defuse the bomb before civiliza- 
tion as we know it ended. 

ALSO RIGHT: Agwamp had only ten seconds to defuse the bomb before 
civilization as we know it ended. 

WRONG: Lochness hasn’t only ten nuclear secrets. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: The sentence now says that Lochness has more than 
ten secrets, but he just counted them and there are only ten. 

RIGHT: Lochness has only ten nuclear secrets. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Ubetcha can’t hardly understand those pesky grammar rules. 

B. Ubetcha can’t help b^toevetanihtaedTfe>c(bhiose pesky grammar rules. 





296 Part V: Rules Even Your Greatv^Mt^ Didn't Know 




It takes two to make a mistake 



In English you find three "to's," all sounding 
exactly alike but spelled differently. (Words that 
sound alike but are spelled differently are 
known as homonyms). And no, they don't add up 
to six. To may be part of an infinitive (to speak , to 
dream ) or it may show movement towards 
someone or something (to the store , to me). Two 
is the number (two eyes , two ears). Too means 
also (Are you going too?) or more than enough 
(too expensive, too wide). In other words: 

If you two want to skip school and go to the 
ball game, today's a good day because the 
teacher will be too busy to check. 



The two basketballs that hit Ludwig in the 
head yesterday were too soft to do much 
damage, but Ludwig is suing anyway. 

Two things you should always remember 
before you decide to break a grammar rule: 
it is never too late to learn proper English 
and you are never too old to get in trouble 
with your teacher. 



Answer: Both are wrong. (The official teacher manual orders teachers to play 
annoying tricks with quizzes.) In sentence A, can’t hardly is a double negative. 
In sentence B, cannot help but is a double negative. Now look at these: 

A. Ubetcha can scarcely understand those pesky grammar rules. 

B. Ubetcha can’t help being confused by those pesky grammar rules. 

Answer: Sentences A and B are both correct. Ubetcha is serving five to ten in 
the penitentiary for breaking grammar rules. In sentence A, he has only a 
little understanding of grammar. In sentence B he is confused. 



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Chapter 23 

The Last Word on Pronouns 

* • • 1 •* c. • % m # % m. 

In This Chapter 

► Deciding between who/whoever and whom/whomever 

► Matching pronouns to the nouns they replace 

* Understanding pronoun use in complicated sentences 
l Decoding the meaning of who, which, and that 
Choosing the proper pronoun for groups 
Avoiding vague pronouns 



I M ou’ve come to it at last: the dreaded pronoun chapter where you find 
out the intricate details of who/whom and the like. Be warned: In three 
nanoseconds, you can easily find something to do that is more interesting 
than these concepts — training fleas for circus duty, for example, or picking 
lint out of your belly button. 



You’re still reading, aren’t you? Okay, you asked for it. Here is the last word 
on pronouns, including who/whom sentences and a host of other really picky 
pronoun points. People have led perfectly pleasant (albeit grammatically 
incorrect) lives without knowing this stuff. But if you insist. . . . 



Knowing the Difference Between 
CCho ana Whom 

The rule for knowing when to use who and whom is simple; applying the rule 
is not. First, the rule: 

u 0 Who and whoever are for subjects. 

Who and whoever also follow and complete the meaning of linking verbs. 
In grammarspeak, who and whoever serve as linking verb complements. 

v 0 Whom and whomeversaetor objects 1 —' all kinds of objects (direct, indirect, 
1 of prepositions, of infinitives, and so on). 




Part V: Rules Even Your GreatvAunt^cGtraiiunarJieacher Didn't Know 



For more information on subjects, see Chapter 4. For more information on 
objects and linking verb complements, see Chapter 6. 

Before applying the rule concerning who/whoever and whom/whomever, 
check out these sample sentences: 

Whoever needs help from Lochness is going to wait a long time. ( Whoever 
is the subject of the verb needs.) 

Who is calling Lulu at this time of night? ( Who is the subject of the verb 
is calling .) 

“I don’t care whom you ask to the prom,” exclaimed Legghorn 
unconvincingly. ( Whom is the direct object of the verb ask .) 

The mustard-yellow belt is for whomever she designates as the hot dog 
eating champion. ( Whomever is the direct object of the verb designates .) 

For whom are you bellowing? ( Whom is the object of the preposition for :) 

Now that you know the rule and have seen the words in action, here are two 
tricks for deciding between who/whoever and whom/ whomever. If one trick 
seems to work, use it and ignore the other. Here goes. . . . 



Trick # 7 : Horse and carriage 

According to an old song, “love and marriage go together like a horse and 
carriage.” Grammarians might sing that song with slightly different lyrics: “A 
subject and verb go together like a horse and carriage.” (What do you think? 
Grammy material?) To use Trick #1, follow these steps: 

1. Find all the verbs in the sentence. 

2. Don’t separate the helping verbs from the main verb. Count the main 
verb and its helpers as a single verb. 

3. Now pair each of the verbs with a subject. 

4. If you have a verb flapping around with no subject, chances are who or 
whoever is the subject you’re missing. 

5. If all the verbs have subjects, check them one more time. Do you have 
any linking verbs without complements? (For more information on 
complements, see Chapter 6.) If you have a lonely linking verb with no 
complement in sight, you need who or whoever. 

6. If all subjects are accounted for and you don’t need a linking verb 
complement, you’ve reached a final answer: whom or whomever is the 
only possibility. 

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www.watch tGhapteE(23: The Last Word on Pronouns 



Here’s a sample sentence, analyzed via Trick #1: 




SENTENCE: Who/Whom shall I say is calling? 

The verbs = shall say, is calling. 

The subject of shall say = /. 

The subject of is calling = Okay, here you go. You need a subject for is call- 
ing but you’re out of words. You have only one choice: who. 

CORRECT SENTENCE: Who shall I say is calling? 

Now you try: Which word is correct? 

Agnes buys detergent in one-ton boxes for Lochness, who/whom she 
adores in spite of his odor problem. 



Answer: Whom, because it’s the direct object of adores. Agnes buys, she adores 
= subject-verb pairs. Both are action verbs, so no subject complement is 
needed. 



Trick #2: Getting rhythm 

This trick relies on your ear for grammar. Most English sentences follow one 
pattern: Subject-Verb-Object or Subject Complement. Trick #2 is to say the 
parts of the sentence in this order, even if you have to rearrange the words a 
little. Here are the steps to follow: 

1. Identify the verb in the sentence that seems connected to the 
who/whom choice. Usually it’s the verb nearest who/whom. It’s also the 
verb logically connected by meaning — that is, in the same thought as 
who/whom. 

2. Say (aloud, if you don’t mind scaring your classmates or co-workers, or 
silently, if you plan to keep a reputation for sanity) the three parts of the 
sentence. 

Anything before the verb is who or whoever. 

If you’re working with an action verb, anything after the verb is probably 
whom or whomever. 

If you’re working with a linking verb, anything after the verb is probably 
who or whoever. 

Here is a sample sentence analyzed with Trick #2: 

Who/Whom will vacancy in his nuclear spy ring? 

The verb is will choose. 




300 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Mnt^ ^aHnar laacher Didn't Know 



Will choose is an action verb, so forget about linking verb complements. 
Say aloud: Lochness will choose who/whom. 

Choice = whom because the word is after the verb. 

Whom = direct object of will choose. 

CORRECT SENTENCE: Whom will Lochness choose for the vacancy in his 
nuclear spy ring? 

Which word is correct? 

Who/Whom do you like better, Lochness or Legghorn? 

Answer: Whom is correct. Change the order of the words to you do like whom. 
Choose whom after an action verb. In this sentence, whom is the direct object. 
(By the way, the answer is Legghorn, no contest. He’s much nicer than 
Lochness.) 



Studying Improper Antecedents 

The antecedent of a pronoun is the word that the pronoun replaces. The 
antecedent and the pronoun should be completely interchangeable. In other 
words, you should be able to replace the pronoun with its antecedent (or the 
antecedent with the pronoun) without changing the meaning of the sentence. 
To follow this rule, you must make sure that the pronoun has an antecedent 
to replace. If the pronoun has no antecedent, the pronoun flaps around loose. 
A loose pronoun is an unhappy pronoun. Furthermore, the pronoun is a picky 
little part of speech. It refuses to replace any old word. If an antecedent is 
almost but not quite right, every self-respecting pronoun turns up its nose at 
the antecedent and calls the grammar police. (For more information on pro- 
nouns and their antecedents, see Chapter 10.) Here are a couple of correct 
and incorrect examples: 

WRONG: She’s a lawyer, and I want to study it. 

What does it replace? Law, I suppose. But the word law is not in the sentence; 
lawyer is. Law and lawyer are close, but not close enough. 

RIGHT: She’s a lawyer, and I want to be one also. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: One refers to lawyer. 

ALSO RIGHT: I’d like to study law, as she did. 

WHY IT’S ALSO RIGHT: There’s no pronoun in the sentence. 

ALSO RIGHT: I bITftioney, so I’m going to law school. 





www.watchtghapter^ZS: The Last Word on Pronouns 301 



Another (trickier) example is: 

WRONG: In Murgatroyd’s poetry, he frequently uses cow imagery. 

Who’s he? Murgatroyd, I imagine. But Murgatroyd isn’t in the sentence. 
Murgatroyd’s — the possessive noun — is in the sentence. You can replace 
Murgatroyd’s by his (because his is a possessive pronoun), but not by he. 



RIGHT: Murgatroyd frequently writes poetry with cow imagery 
WHY IT’S RIGHT: There’s no pronoun in the sentence. 




ALSO RIGHT: Stay away from Murgatroyd’s poetry readings unless you 
are really, really, really fond of cows. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Lola has always been interested in archaeology because she thinks they 
spend a lot of time in the dirt. 



B. Lola has always been interested in archaeology because she thinks 
archaeologists spend a lot of time in the dirt. 



Sentence B is correct. In sentence A, no proper antecedent exists for they. 
Sentence B replaces they with the noun archaeologists. 



Matching Verbs to Pronouns 
in Complicated Sentences 

Singular pronouns must be paired with singular verbs, and plural pronouns must 
be paired with plural verbs. Easy rule, right? He says. They say. No problem. But 
not all pronouns are as simple as he and they. Some pronouns — who, which, and 
that — are chameleons. (See Chapter 25 for details on punctuating sentences 
with which and that.) They always look the same, but they may be either singular 
or plural depending upon their antecedents. You have to decode the sentence to 
decide whether the antecedent is singular or plural. Then you must match the 
verb to the antecedent. In some sentences with simple structure, the choice is 
fairly obvious. For example: 

English Grammar For Dummies is the book that you’re reading. ( that = 
book = singular) 

The tax guides that fell off the shelf cost me a million dollars, (that = tax 
guides = plural) 



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302 Part V: Rules Even Your Great^^^efi^RWWi^acher Didn't Know 



In complicated sentences, those that single out something or someone from a 
group, the choice is not so obvious. To pair the pronoun with the correct 
verb , use your reading comprehension skills to figure out the meaning of the 
pronoun. After you know the meaning of the pronoun, the choice between a 
singular and plural verb is clear. Check out the following examples: 

SENTENCE A: Lulu is one of the few choir members who has/have more 
than 1 1 tattoos. 

The who statement is about having more than 11 tattoos. 

According to the sentence, how many choir members are in that category? 
One or more than one? More than one. 

The who refers to choir members. 

Choose the plural verb (have). 

CORRECT SENTENCE: Lulu is one of the few choir members who have 
more than 1 1 tattoos. 

SENTENCE B: Lulu is the only one of the choir members who has/have a 
tattoo of a motorcycle on her arm. 

The who statement is about having a tattoo of a motorcycle. 

The sentence makes it clear that Lulu is the only one with that tattoo. 

Who is singular, referring to Lulu. 

Choose the singular verb (has). 

CORRECT SENTENCE: Lulu is the only one of the choir members who has 
a tattoo of a motorcycle on her arm. 

Which word is correct? 

Ratrug claims he is one of the many men who has/have been unfairly 
rejected by Lola. 

Answer: Have. Lola has rejected more than one man, according to the sentence, 
so the verb must be plural. 

This, That , and the Other: Clarifying 
Vague Pronoun References 

One pronoun may refer to one noun. A plural pronoun may refer to more than 
one noun. But no pronoun may refer to a whole sentence or a whole paragraph. 
Consider the following scenario: 





T^!!f h CHSplgi c 23: The Last Word on Pronouns 303 



Lulu likes to arrive at school around 1 1 each day because she thinks that 
getting up at any hour earlier than 10 is barbaric. The principal, not 
surprisingly, thinks that arriving at school over two hours late each day 
is not a good idea. This is a problem. 



This certainly is a problem, and not because of Lulu’s sleeping habits or the 
principal’s beliefs. This is a problem because the antecedent of the word this 
is unclear. What does this mean? The fact that Lulu arrives around 11? That 
Lulu thinks getting up before 10 is out of the question? Or that the principal 
and Lulu are not, to put it mildly, in sync? Or all of the above? 

The writer probably intends this to refer to all of the above , a perfectly good 
answer on those horrible multiple choice tests you have to take far too often 
these days. Unfortunately, all of the above is not a good answer to the question, 
“What does the pronoun mean?” 

Thus 



WRONG: The orange dye looks horrible, and the cut looks as though it 
were done with pinking shears. This persuaded Lola to attend the dance 
wearing her purple wig. 

WHY IT’S WRONG: This is referring to the 1 7 words of the preceding 
sentence, not to one noun. 

RIGHT: Because the orange dye looks horrible and the cut looks as 
thought it were done with pinking shears, Lola decided to attend the 
dance wearing her purple wig. 

ALSO RIGHT: The fact that the orange dye looks horrible and the cut 
looks as though it were done with pinking shears persuaded Lola to 
attend the dance wearing her purple wig. 

WHY IT’S RIGHT: Eliminating this eliminates the problem. 

In ordinary speech (conversational English) you may occasionally use this, 
which, or that to refer to more than one word, as long as your meaning is 
clear. For example: 

Lochness refused to defuse the explosive postage stamp, which angered 
all the postal workers. 




The pronoun which in the preceding example refers to the fact that Lochness 
refused to defuse the explosive stamp. Your audience grasps the meaning easily. 
However, grammatically, the sentence is incorrect because which should replace 
only one noun. Bottom line: In formal writing you should follow the rule. Reject 
the sentence. In informal situations, go ahead and use it. 

In both conversational ^id vagueness. Never use a 

pronoun that may refer to two or more ideas; don’t leave your reader or 
listener wondering what you mean. For example: 




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Part V: Rules Even Your Great^^un^s^PdfrHmsFp^eacher Didn't Know 



Lulu’s history term paper was ten days late and ten pages short. This 
earned her an F on the assignment. 

What convinced the teacher to fail Lulu? The lateness or the fact that she 
wrote exactly 34 words on “The French Revolution: Its Causes and Effects in 
Relation to the Concept of Democracy”? One of these factors? If so, which 
one? Or both? Inquiring minds want to know, and the pronoun doesn’t tell. 
Possible corrections include the following: 

Because Lulu’s history term paper was ten days late and ten pages short, 
the teacher failed her. (Now you know that both factors influenced the 
grade.) 

Lulu’s history term paper was ten days late, so the teacher failed her. 
Even if it had arrived on time, the fact that it was ten pages short would 
have earned her an F on the assignment anyway. 

To sum up this simple rule: Be clear when using pronouns. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The roof leaked and the floor creaked, which kept Ratrug up all night. 

B. The leaky roof and the creaky floor kept Ratrug up all night. 

Answer: Sentence B is correct. In sentence A, which refers to two ideas, not to 
one noun. 

Its or Their 7 Selecting Pronouns 
for Collective Nouns 

Collective nouns present a problem when it comes to choosing the right 
pronouns. Collective nouns (committee, team, squad, army, class, and the like) 
refer to groups. When the group is acting as a unit — doing the same thing at 
the same time — the noun is singular and the pronouns that refer to it are 
also singular. When the sentence refers to individual members of the group, 
use a plural pronoun. 

The audience rises and is ready to leave after a stirring performance of 
Legghorn’s new play. (Actually, the audience was ready to leave after the 
first act, but Lulu had locked the doors.) 

In this sentence, I paired the subject, audience, with singular verbs — rises, 
is and was. Those v^J^ ^^^g^|)g^use the audience acts together, 
a collection of people molded into one unit. To put the concept into 
grammarspeak, audience is a collective noun. 





Part V: Rules Even Your Grea^^^ngjfjjajJeacher Didn't Know 



Are there any sentences in which its is correct? Yes. Here’s one: 

The cast will hold its annual Thank-God-Legghorn’s-Latest-Play-Is-Over 
Party tomorrow. 

Its is appropriate in this sentence because the party belongs to the cast as a 
whole, not to the individual members of the cast. 

Here’s another sentence to figure out: 

As the orchestra raises its/their instruments, Lochness searches for the 
sheet music. 

Orchestra is another collective noun. The verb is singular, because the orchestra 
acts in unison, but its instruments sounds strange. Okay, maybe the orchestra 
owns all the tubas, violins, and other instruments of destruction. (You should 
hear them play.) So if the sentence were talking about ownership, its would fit: 

The orchestra insures its instruments with Lloyds of Topeka. 

However, the orchestra can’t raise a collectively-owned instrument. Each 
musician raises his or her own. So their and musicians make more sense: 

The musicians in the orchestra raise their instruments and prepare to 
demolish Beethoven. 



To sum up the general rules on pronouns that refer to groups: 



u* Collective nouns performing one action as a unit take a singular verb. 

u* Possessive pronouns referring to collective nouns are singular if the 
item possessed belongs to the entire group. 

If the members of the group are acting as individuals, drop the collective 
noun. Possessive pronouns referring to the members of the group are 
plural. 




u* Body parts always belong to individuals, not to groups. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The class will hold its annual picnic during the monsoon season because 
of poor planning by the administration. 



B. The class will hold their annual picnic during the monsoon season 
because of poor planning by the administration. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. The picnic belongs to everyone as a group. 



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Pronouns, Inc.: Using Pronouns 
With Company Names 

What about businesses? Is Bloomingdale’s having its sale or their sale? (Til 
answer you in a little while. First I have to check out the sale. I need new 
towels.) Think of the issue this way: Even if the business’s name looks plural 
( Bloomingdale’s , Sears, AT&T, and so on), the business is a singular noun 
because one company is, after all, just one company. Therefore, the verb is 
singular. Now for the pronouns: The business is an it, not a they, because a 
company is, as I just pointed out, a company. So possession for companies is 
always expressed by its. Thus 




Bloomingdale’s is having its sale today. 

Sears is having its sale tomorrow. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. The sales personnel at Gumley Brothers always say that their water filters 
are the absolute best. 



B. The sales personnel at Gumley Brothers always say that its water filters 
are the absolute best. 



Answer: Sentence B is correct, assuming that the sales personnel are referring 
to the water filters that are being sold in the store. If, however, the sales 
personnel are referring to filters that they themselves bought and installed 
(in their own separate homes) to keep the toxic waste away, go for sentence A. 



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308 Part V: Rules Even Your Grea^^y^n^Jiacher Didn’t Know 




A historic or historical occasion 



If something is historical, it happened and is 
now history. If something is historic, it happened 
and was important. In one way or another, a his- 
toric event influenced the course of history as 
you now understand it. Consider the following: 

The little-known American labor leader, 
Junius P. Legghorn, shaved at least three 
times a day because of accusations that he 
had sabotaged the disposable razor industry 
by promoting the five-o'clock-shadow look. 

This information is historical; you can look it up 
in Legghorn's autobiography. My Life in the Fast 
Lane with No Turn Signal. Other historical 
events in Legghorn's tumultuous life include his 
trip by jet ski through the Erie Canal and his 



week-long visit to the White House, where he 
was not invited to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. 

Despite his long life in public service, Junius P. 
Legghorn was not involved in any historic 
events whatsoever. Nothing he did merits a 
moment's consideration by serious historians. 
(Even when he attended important ceremonies 
or congressional debates, he had a knack for 
disappearing into the men's room at the crucial 
moment, possibly because of his habit of drink- 
ing large quantities of iced tea.) 

Thus, Junius R Legghorn was a historical, not 
imaginary, figure who did not participate in any 
historic events. 



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Chapter 24 

The Last Word on 
Sentence Structure 

9 I I k. • I r f <• > * O 

In This Chapter 

Distinguishing between independent and subordinate clauses 
Untangling one clause from another 
Using subordinate clauses to make your writing more fluid 
Identifying verbals and using them to add variety to your writing 



^kay I give you a new car. What do you do? Open the hood and check the 
engine, or hop in and drive it away? The engine-checkers and the drive- 
awayers are the two sub-groups of car owners. The engine-checkers have to 
know what’s going on inside the machine. The other group doesn’t care 
what’s going on inside the machine. They just want the car to run. 

You can also divide speakers of English into two groups. Some people want to 
understand what’s going on inside the sentence, but most just want to com- 
municate. In this chapter I provide some information for each — the lift-up- 
the-hood-of-the-sentence group and the drive-English-down-the-block group. 
The first part of this chapter digs into the structure of the sentence, defining 
clauses and verbals. The second part of the chapter shows you how to make 
your writing more interesting by varying sentence patterns. You use clauses 
and verbals to create those patterns, but you don’t need to obsess over the 
terminology. 

Understanding the Basics 
of Clause and Effect 

No matter what food you put between two pieces of bread, you’ve got a 
sandwich. That’s the defw^oatciftsai^roecferbread plus filling. Clauses have 
a simple definition too: subject plus verb. Any subject-verb combination 
creates a clause. The reverse is also true: no subject or no verb, no clause. 




310 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Auot^tQlfunflWcTeacher Didn't Know 



You can throw in some extras (descriptions, joining words, lettuce, tomato . . . 
whatever), but the basic subject-verb combination is key. Some sentences 
have one clause, in which case the whole sentence is the clause, and some 
have more than one. 




Be sure to check your sentences for completeness. Each sentence should 
contain at least one complete thought, expressed in a way that can stand alone. 
In grammarspeak, each sentence must contain at least one independent clause 
(check out “Getting the goods on subordinate and independent clauses,” later in 
this chapter). For more information on complete sentences, see Chapter 5. 



Here are a few examples of one-clause sentences: 



Has Eggworthy cracked the Case of the Missing Chicken? (subject = 
Eggworthy, verb = has cracked) 

Lulu crossed the Alps in the dead of winter without help from a single 
elephant, (subject = Lulu, verb = crossed) 

Cedric and his enemies have reached an agreement about the number of 
spitballs thrown each day. (subjects = Cedric and his enemies, verb = have 
reached) 

Agwamp swam for 15 minutes and rowed for an hour before nightfall, 
(subject = Agwamp, verbs = swam, rowed) 

Notice that some of the clauses have two subjects and some have two verbs, 
but each expresses one main idea. Here are a few examples of sentences with 
more than one clause: 



SENTENCE: Legghorn struggled out from under the blankets, and then he 
dashed for the secret microfilm. 

CLAUSE 1: Legghorn struggled out from under the blankets (subject = 
Legghorn, verb = struggled) 

CLAUSE 2: then he dashed for the secret microfilm (subject = he, verb = 
dashed) 

SENTENCE: After Cedric had developed the secret microfilm, Eggworthy 
sent it to whatever federal agency catches spies. 

CLAUSE 1: After Cedric had developed the secret microfilm (subject = 
Cedric, verb = had developed) 

CLAUSE 2: Eggworthy sent it to whatever federal agency catches spies 
(subject = Eggworthy, verb = sent) 

CLAUSE 3: whatever federal agency catches spies (subject = agency, 
verb = catches) 



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Ghapt©r Z4j The Last Word on Sentence Structure 



There is something odd about the last example. Clause #3 is actually part of 
clause #2. It’s not a misprint. Sometimes one clause is actually entangled in 
another. (This topic is deep in the pathless forests of grammar! Get out now, 
while you still can!) 

Here’s one more example that’s really complicated: 

SENTENCE: Whoever ate the secret microfilm is in big trouble. 

CLAUSE #1: Whoever ate the secret microfilm (subject = whoever, 
verb = ate ) 

CLAUSE #2: Whoever ate the secret microfilm is in big trouble. 

(subject = whoever ate the secret microfilm, verb = is) 

Yes, one clause is the subject of another clause. Good grief! What a system. 
(For those who truly love grammar: The subject clause is a noun clause. See 
“Knowing the three legal jobs for subordinate clauses” later in this chapter 
for more information.) 

Getting the goods on subordinate 
and independent clauses 

Some clauses are mature grown-ups. They have their own apartment, pay 
their own rent, and wash the dishes frequently enough to ward off a visit 
from the health inspector. These clauses have made a success of life; they’re 
independent. 

Other clauses are like the brother-in-law character in a million jokes. They still 
live at home, or they crash on someone’s couch. They’re always mooching a 
free meal, and they never see Mom without handing her a bag full of dirty 
laundry. These clauses are not mature; they can’t support themselves. They’re 
dependent. These clauses may be called dependent clauses or subordinate 
clauses. (The terms are interchangeable.) 

Following are two sets of clauses. Both have subject-verb pairs, but the 
first set makes sense alone and the second doesn’t. The first set consists of 
independent clauses, and the second of subordinate clauses. 

Independent clauses: 

Cedric blasted Blathersby with a radar gun. 

Blathersby was going 50 m.p.h. 

The cougar could >UW.«H»5itcoms.com 
Did Blathersby award the trophy? 




312 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-AunfefirammarJeacher Didn't Know 



Subordinate clauses: 

After Cedric had complained to the race officials 
Because Blathersby had installed an illegal motor on his skateboard 
Which Eggworthy bought from an overcrowded zoo 
Whoever ran the fastest 




Independent clauses are okay by themselves, but writing too many in a row 
makes your paragraph choppy and monotonous. Subordinate clauses, however, 
are not okay by themselves because they don’t make complete sentences. To 
become complete, they have to tack themselves onto independent clauses. 
Subordinate clauses add life and interest to the sentence (just as the guy 
crashing on your couch adds a little zip to the household). But don’t leave 
them alone, because disaster will strike. A subordinate clause all by itself is a 
grammatical felony — a sentence fragment. 

The best sentences combine different elements in all sorts of patterns. In the 
following example, I join the independent clauses and subordinate clauses to 
create longer, more interesting sentences: 

After Cedric had complained to the race officials, he blasted Blathersby 

with a radar gun. 



Because Blathersby had installed an illegal motor on his skateboard, he 
was going 50 m.p.h. 



The cougar, which Eggworthy bought from an overcrowded zoo, could 
not keep up. 




Did Blathersby award the trophy to whoever ran the fastest? 
Combine the ideas in each of these sets into one sentence. 

Set A: 



Felonia screamed at the piano mover. 

The mover dropped the piano on the delicate foot of the vivacious 
violinist. 



Set B: 



Analivia solved a quadratic equation. 

The equation had been troubling the math major. 



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Chapter24;sTheLastWord on Sentence Structure 313 



Set C: 

Legghorn gave special trophies. 

Some people wanted those trophies. 

Those people got the trophies. 

Answer: Several combinations are possible. Here are three: 

A. Felonia screamed at the piano mover who dropped the piano on the 
delicate foot of the vivacious violinist. 

B. Analivia solved a quadratic equation that had been troubling the 
math major. 

C. Legghorn gave special trophies to whoever wanted them. 



Knowing the three legal jobs 
for subordinate clauses 

Okay, subordinate clauses can’t stand alone. What can they do? They really 
have three main purposes in life, as you see in the following sections. 

Describing nouns and pronouns 

Yep, subordinate clauses can describe nouns and pronouns. That is, the 
subordinate clause may give your listener or reader more information about 
a noun or pronoun in the sentence. Here are some examples, with the subor- 
dinate clause in italics: 



The book that Legghorn wrote is on the best seller list, (that Legghorn 
wrote describes the noun book ) 



Anyone who knows Legghorn well will read the book, (who knows 
Legghorn well describes the pronoun anyone ) 




The book includes some information that will prove embarrassing to 
Legghorn ’s friends, (that will prove embarrassing to Legghorn ’s friends 
describes the noun information ) 

Subordinate clauses that describe nouns or pronouns are called adjectival 
clauses or adjective clauses. 

Describing Verbs, adjectives, or adverbs 

Subordinate clauses can also describe verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. The 
subordinate clauses tell ymmhxm^mhm^rmlmre, or why. Some examples, with 
the subordinate clause in italics, are as follows: 




3/4 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-^’^fjiigjfflirJ/piacher Didn't Know 



Because Legghorn censored himself, the book contains nothing about the 
exploding doughnut. ( Because Legghorn censored himself describes the 
verb contains ) 

We may find out more when the movie version is released, (when the 
movie version is released describes the verb find) 

The government may prohibit sales of the book wherever international 
tensions make it dangerous, (wherever international tensions make it 
dangerous describes the verb may prohibit) 

Legghorn is so stubborn that he may sue the government, (that he may sue 
the government describes the adverb so ) 




Subordinate clauses that describe verbs are called adverbial clauses or 
adverb clauses. Subordinate clauses that describe adjectives or adverbs 
(mostly in comparisons) are also adverbial clauses. Adverbial clauses do the 
same job as single-word adverbs. They describe verbs, adjectives, or other 
adverbs. 



Acting as subjects or objects inside another clause 

This one is a bit more complicated: Subordinate clauses may do any job that 
a noun does in a sentence. Subordinate clauses sometimes act as subjects or 
objects inside another clause. Here are some examples, with the subordinate 
clause in italics: 



When the book was written is a real mystery. (When the book was written 
is the subject of the verb is) 



No one knows whom Legghorn hired to write his book, (whom Legghorn 
hired to write his book is the object of the verb knows) 




Legghorn signed copies for whoever bought at least five books, (whoever 
bought at least five books is the object of the preposition for) 

Noun clauses are subordinate clauses that perform the same functions as 
nouns — subjects, objects, appositives, and so on. 




Check out the italicized clause in each sentence. Subordinate or independent? 
You decide. 

A. Even though he had hit a home run, Legghorn’s team lost by more than 
50 runs. 



B. Eggworthy danced for a while, but then he said that his head was splitting 
and sat down. 



Answer: In sentence A, the italicized clause is subordinate. In sentence B, the 
italicized clause is independent. 

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Word on Sentence Structure 315 



Untangling subordinate 
and independent clauses 

You have to untangle one clause from another only occasionally — when 
deciding which pronoun or verb you need or whether commas are appropriate. 
(See the next section, “Deciding when to untangle clauses,” for more 
information.) When you do have to untangle them, follow these simple steps: 

1. Find the subject-verb pairs. 

2. Use your reading comprehension skills to determine whether the 
subject-verb pairs belong to the same thought or to different thoughts. 

3. If the pairs belong to different thoughts, they’re probably in different 
clauses. 

4. If the pairs belong to the same thought, they’re probably in the same 
clause. 



Another method also relies on reading comprehension skills. Think about the 
ideas in the sentence and untangle the thoughts. By doing so, you’ve probably 
also untangled the clauses. 

Check out these examples: 



SENTENCE: The acting award that Lola received comes with a hefty 
check. 

SUBJECT-VERB PAIRS: award comes, Lola received 

UNTANGLED IDEAS: 1.) The award comes with a hefty check 2.) Lola 
received the award. 

CLAUSES: 1.) The acting award comes with a hefty check. (Independent 
clause) 2.) that Lola received (subordinate clause) 



SENTENCE: When Lulu tattoos someone, they stay tattooed. 

SUBJECT-VERB PAIRS: Lulu tattoos, they stay 

UNTANGLED IDEAS: 1 .) Lulu tattoos someone 2.) they stay tattooed 




CLAUSES: 1.) When Lulu tattoos someone (subordinate clause) 2.) they stay 
tattooed (independent clause) 

Untangle this sentence into separate clauses. 

Lola’s last motorcycle, which she bought second-hand, was once owned 
by Elvis. 

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Answer: Clause #1: Lola’s last motorcycle was once owned by Elvis. Clause 
#2: which she bought second-hand. 




316 



Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Atmt&tfir&mmarcTeacher Didn't Know 



Try another. Untangle the following sentence. 

No one knows when Analivia sleeps. 

Answer: Clause #1: no one knows. Clause #2: When Analivia sleeps. 



bedding when to untangle clauses 

Why would you want to untangle clauses? Not just because you have nothing 
better to do. You should untangle clauses when you’re choosing pronouns, 
verbs, and punctuation. Read on for the whole story. 

When you’re picking a pronoun 

When you’re deciding whether you need a subject or an object pronoun, 
check the clause that contains the word. Don’t worry about what the entire 
clause is doing in the sentence. Untangle the clause and ignore everything 
else. Then decide which pronoun you need for that particular clause. 

Many of the decisions about pronouns concern who and whom. (For tricks to 
help you make the who/whom choice, see Chapter 23. For a general discussion 
of choosing the correct pronoun, see Chapters 10 and 17.) 

Here’s one untangling example, with the pronoun problem in parenthesis: 

SENTENCE: Ludmilla wasn’t sure (who/whom) would want a used 
engagement ring. 

UNTANGLED INTO CLAUSES: Clause #1: Ludmilla wasn’t sure. Clause #2: 
(who/whom ) would want a used engagement ring. 

RELEVANT CLAUSE: ( who/whom ) would want a used engagement ring. 

CORRECT PRONOUN: who (subject of would want) 

When you’re deciding on the correct Verb 

When you’re deciding subject-verb agreement in one clause, the other clauses 
are distractions. In fact, if you’re writing (not speaking), I recommend that you 
cross out or cover the other clauses for a moment. Check the clause that 
worries you. Decide the subject-verb agreement issue, and then erase the 
crossing-out line or remove your hand. (For more information on subject-verb 
agreement, see Chapter 11.) 

Here’s one untangling example, with the verb choices in parenthesis: 

SENTENCE: Ludwig, whose brides are all thrilled to marry into the royal 
family, (needs/nee^ W§t$hteM l 0Cli0<?ir 

UNTANGLED INTO CLAUSES: Clause #1: Ludwig (needs/need) no introduction. 
Clause #2: whose brides are all thrilled to marry into the royal family. 




Chapteic24: T he iast Word on Sentence Structure 317 



RELEVANT CLAUSE: Ludwig (needs/need) no introduction. 
CORRECT VERB: needs (Ludwig = singular, needs = singular) 



When you’re figuring out where to put commas 

Sometimes you have to untangle clauses in order to decide whether or not 
you need commas. Go through the same untangling steps that I discuss earlier 
in the chapter (see “Untangling subordinate and independent clauses”) and 
then flip to Chapter 25 to see how to use commas correctly. 



Putting gour subordinate clauses 
in the right place 

Finding the correct place to put your subordinate clauses is simple. Clauses 
acting as subjects or objects nearly always fall in the proper place automatically. 
Don’t worry about them! 

Put the subordinate clause that describes a noun or pronoun near the word 
that it describes. (For lots more detail on placing descriptions in their proper 
places, see Chapters 8 and 18.) 

If the subordinate clause describes the verb, it may land at the front of the 
sentence or at the rear. On rare occasions, the clause settles down in the 
middle of the sentence. Here are some examples, with the subordinate clause 
in italics: 



Although Analivia understood the equation, she chose to put a question 
mark on her answer sheet. 

She wrote the question mark because she wanted to make a statement 
about the mysteries of life. 

Analivia failed the test; but until her mother found out about the question 
mark, Analivia was not distressed. 




An unbelievably obscure punctuation rule that no normal people follow calls 
for a semicolon in front of a conjunction when a comma appears elsewhere in 
the sentence. (For more information on conjunctions, see Chapter 7.) I followed 
that rule (an act which once and for all settles the question of my normalcy) in 
the preceding sample sentence. Because of the comma after mark, I placed a 
semicolon in front of the conjunction but. Warning: You should know that if you 
follow this rule, most of your readers will think that you’ve made an error. 
However, a few die-hard grammarians will break into tears of gratitude because 
someone else knows how to use a semicolon correctly. (Excuse me for a 
moment while I wipe my ©yes^atchtvsitcoms.com 




318 Part V: Rules Even Your GreatiA«4lilt'&((nf^lie!Rar c |eacher Didn't Know 



Choosing the content for your 
subordinate clauses 

Although this topic is fairly easy, a few traps are sprinkled here and there. For 
example, what to put in each clause is generally a question of personal choice. 
Most writers believe that putting the important idea in the independent clause 
and the other ideas in subordinate clauses is best. Here are some examples: 

IMPORTANT IDEA: Godzilla ate my mother. 

LESS IMPORTANT IDEA: My mother was wearing a green dress. 

GOOD SENTENCE: Godzilla ate my mother, who was wearing a green dress. 

NOT-SO-GOOD SENTENCE: My mother was wearing a green dress when 
Godzilla ate her. 

IMPORTANT IDEA: Agwamp just won a trillion dollars 

LESS IMPORTANT IDEA: His name means “ancient bettor” in an obscure 
language. 

GOOD SENTENCE: Agwamp, whose name means “ancient bettor” in an 
obscure language, just won a trillion dollars. 

NOT-SO-GOOD SENTENCE: Agwamp, who just won a trillion dollars, says 
that his name means “ancient bettor” in an obscure language. 

For more discussion on joining independent and subordinate clauses, see 
Chapter 7. 



Getting Verbal 

Ah, diversity. Wouldn’t the world be boring if everyone and everything were 
the same? Ah, harmony. Isn’t it wonderful when different backgrounds join 
forces to create a new, improved blend? 

In grammar, the new, improved blend of two parts of speech is a verbal. 
Verbals are extremely useful hybrids. In this section, I tell you what’s what, 
and then I show you how to use verbals. 



Appreciating gerunds 

The noun and the verb get married, move into a little house on the prairie, 
and pretty soon the j^re^of iiffle syfiaB’fes hits the airwaves. The children of 
this happy marriage are gerunds. Gerunds inherit some characteristics from 
their mother, the verb: 




Word on Sentence Structure 319 



u 0 They end in -ing and look like verbs — swimming, dripping, being, bopping, 
bribing, and so on. 

w 0 They may be described bywords or phrases that usually describe verbs — 
swimming swiftly, dripping noisily, being in the moment, bopping to the 
rhythm of a great new song, bribing yesterday, and so on. 

v 0 The type of clause that usually describes verbs may also describe 
gerunds — swimming after the race ends, dripping when the cap is not 
tightened, being wherever you should be, bopping although you are tired, 
bribing whenever you want something. 

u 0 They may have objects or subject complements — swimming laps, dripping 
drops of gooey glop, being president, bopping Lochness on the nose, bribing 
public officials and umpires, find so on. 

From their father, the noun, gerunds inherit only two characteristics, but one 
is a biggie: 

u 0 BIGGIE: They act as nouns in the sentence. Therefore, gerunds may be 
subjects, objects, and anything else that a noun can be. 

v 0 NON-BIGGIE: Words that usually describe nouns or pronouns — 
adjectives — may also describe gerunds — my swimming, noisy 
dripping, illegal bribing, and so on. (Is there any legal bribing?) 

Here are a few examples, with the gerund and all the words associated with it 
(the gerund phrase, in grammarspeak) italicized: 

Swimming the Atlantic Ocean was not exactly what Ludmilla had in mind 
when she married Ludwig. ( swimming the Atlantic Ocean = subject of the 
verb was) 

Analivia, a neat person in every possible way, hates my dripping ice cream 
on the rug. (my dripping ice cream on the rug = direct object of the verb 
hates) 

The importance of being earnest in one ’s playwriting cannot be over- 
emphasized. (being earnest in one’s playwriting = object of the prepo- 
sition of) 

After bopping Lochness on the nose, Legghorn took off at about 100 m.p.h. 
(bopping Lochness on the nose = object of the preposition after) 

Felonia gave bribing the umpire serious consideration when her team lost 
its 450th game in a row. (bribing the umpire = object of the verb gave) 



Working With infinities 

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The infinitive is another happy child of two different parts of speech. (See 
Chapter 2 for more information on infinitives.) The infinitives’ mother is the 
verb, and from her, infinitives inherit several important characteristics: 




320 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-^^ t &r^mrcTftacher Didn't Know 

j> Infinitives look like verbs, with the word to tacked on in front — to 
dance, to dream, to be, to dally, to prosecute, and so on. 

v* Words or phrases that usually describe verbs may also describe infini- 
tives (to dance divinely, to dream daily, to be in the kitchen, to dally for 
hours, to prosecute ferociously, and so on). 

u* Similarly, the type of clause that usually describes verbs may also 
describe infinitives to dance until the cows come home, to dream when 
your heart is breaking, to be wherever you want to be, to dally even though 
homework awaits, to prosecute because justice demands it, and so on. 

u* Infinitives may have objects or subject complements — to dance a jig, to 
dream an impossible dream, to be silly, to prosecute Lochness for high 
crimes and misdemeanors, and so on. 

The infinitive inherits its job in the sentence from the father. Who, you may ask, 
is the father of the infinitive? Well, the infinitive’s mom gets around, and the 
father may actually be any one of three parts of speech (shocking, isn’t it?): 

v 0 Most infinitives act as subjects, objects, or subject complements. (Dad is 
a noun.) 

A few infinitives describe nouns. (Dad is an adjective.) 
v* A few infinitives describe verbs. (Dad is an adverb.) 

Here are a few examples of infinitives in their natural habitat, the sentence. 

I have italicized the infinitive and the words associated with it (the infinitive 
phrase, in grammarspeak): 

To dance on Broadway is Lola’s lifelong dream, (to dance on Broadway = 
subject of the verb is) 

During cabinet meetings, Ludwig likes to dream with his eyes open, (to 
dream with his eyes open = object of the verb likes) 

Lulu’s lifelong goal is to be silly when everyone else is serious, (to be 
silly = subject complement of the verb is) 

Ludmilla went to that nightclub just to dally (to dally describes the 
verb went) 

The case to prosecute is the one about the exploding doughnut. 

(to prosecute describes the noun case ) 



Participating With a participle 

Last but not least of the verbals (a word that is a blend of two different parts 
of speech) is the partfd^l^P^^^/SS-S??' actually parts of verbs (hence the 
amazingly original name). In some sentences participles act as part of the 
verb, but in those situations, they’re not called verbals. I ignore the 




Word on Sentence Structure ^ 2 i 



acting-as-verb participles here, but if you want more information about them, 
see Chapter 3. When participles are verbals, they, like the other two verbals, 
inherit some important traits from their mom the verb: 

u 0 Participles look like verb parts, though they may have several different 
forms. Some end with -ing, some with -ed, and some with other letters. 
Also, they may have helping verbs. Driven, coping, elevated, having 
crossed, and gone are a few examples of participles. 

u 0 Words or phrases that usually describe verbs may also describe participles 
(driven home, coping bravely, elevated to the position of Emperor, having 
crossed illegally, gone with the wind, and so on). 

u 0 Similarly, the type of clause that usually describes verbs may also 

describe participles driven although he has two perfectly good feet, coping 
bravely when tragedy strikes, elevated because he bribed three officials, 
having crossed where no man has crossed before, gone after the sun sets, 
and so on. 

u 0 Participles may have objects or subject complements — driven mad, 
elevated Ludmilla to the position of Empress, having crossed the road, 
and so on. 

From their father, the adjective, participles take one characteristic: They 
describe nouns and pronouns. 

Participles may appear in several different spots in the sentence: 

i* 0 They may precede the noun or pronoun that they describe: tired feet 
(the participle tired describes the noun feet), sneezing dwarves (the 
participle sneezing describes the noun dwarves), burped baby (the 
participle burped describes the noun baby). 

v 0 They may follow a linking verb, in which case they describe the subject. 

(A linking verb is a form of the verb to be or a sensory verb. See Chapter 2 
for more information.): 

Ludmilla is exhausted. (The participle exhausted follows the linking 
verb is and describes Ludmilla.) 

Felonia’s concerto sounds enchanting. (The participle enchanting 
follows the linking verb sounds and describes concerto.) 

v 0 They may follow the noun or pronoun that they describe. In this position, 
participles often include descriptive words or objects. The participles 
and the words associated with them — the participial phrases — are 
italicized here: 

Someone, having angered the herd of cattle, is running for the fence 
at the speed of light. (Having angered the herd of cattle describes 
someone ) wwwwatc htvsitcoms.com 

I want to read the new anti-bubble gum law passed by the senate. 

( Passed by the senate describes law.) 




\22 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-AunCsv&ratUinaaiisTaacher Didn't Know 

u* Participles may begin the sentence, in which case they must describe 
the subject of the sentence: 

Poked in the tummy, the doll immediately said, “Watch it, Buster!” 

( Poked in the tummy describes doll.) 

Smashed against the picture window, Lola’s nose looked sore. 

( Smashed against the picture window describes nose.) 

Spicing Up Boring Sentences 
With Clauses and Verbals 

Which paragraph sounds better? 

Legghorn purchased a new spy camera. The camera was smaller than a 
grain of rice. Legghorn gave the camera to Lola. Lola is rather forgetful. 
She is especially forgetful now. Lola is planning a trip to Antarctica. Lola 
accidentally mixed the camera into her rice casserole along with bean 
sprouts and orange marmalade. The camera baked for 45 minutes. The 
camera became quite tender. Legghorn unknowingly ate the camera. 

Legghorn purchased a new spy camera that was smaller than a grain of 
rice. Legghorn gave the camera to Lola, who is rather forgetful, especially 
now that she is planning a trip to Antarctica. Accidentally mixed into 
Lola’s rice casserole along with bean sprouts and orange marmalade, the 
camera baked for 45 minutes. Legghorn unknowingly ate the camera, 
which was quite tender. 

I’m going to take a guess; you said that the second paragraph was better, didn’t 
you? It’s a bit shorter (62 words instead of 69), but length isn’t the issue. The 
first paragraph is composed of short, choppy sentences. The second one flows. 
Grammatically, the difference between the two is simple. The second paragraph 
has more subordinate clauses and verbals than the first. 

You don’t necessarily need to know how to find or label clauses or verbals. 
However, you should read your writing aloud from time to time to check how 
it sounds. Are your sentences monotonous? Are they all more or less the 
same length? Do all your sentences follow the same pattern? Is everything 
subject-verb or subject-verb-complement? Have you strung a lot of short 
sentences together with and or a similar joining word? If so, your sentences 
need some first aid. In this section, with a minimum of grammatical labels, 

I give you some suggestions to pep up tired sentences. 



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€ha|rier M: Th« lia st Word on Sentence Structure 321 



The clause that refreshes 

Have you ever seen those diet ads on late-night television? The before picture 
shows someone who has apparently eaten a rainforest, and the after picture 
shows a toothpick-thin body. In this section I show you some before-and-after 
sentences. No diets — just a change from boring to interesting. For label 
lovers, 1 have put in subordinate clauses, which are italicized. 

BORING BEFORE VERSION: Ratrug sat on a tuffet. Ratrug did not know 
that he was sitting on a tuffet. Ratrug had never seen a tuffet before. He 
was quite comfortable. Then Ms. Muffet came in and caused trouble. 

EXCITING AFTER VERSION: Ratrug, who was sitting on a tuffet, did not 
know what a tuffet was because he had never seen one before. Until Ms. 
Muffet came in and caused trouble, Ratrug was quite comfortable. 

Doesn’t the after paragraph sound better? It’s two words shorter (33 instead of 
35 words), but more important than length is the number of sentences. The 
before paragraph has five, and the after paragraph has two. Tucking more than 
one idea into a sentence saves words and makes your writing less choppy. 



Verbally speaking 

Verbals pull a lot of information into a little package. After all, they represent 
a blend of two parts of speech, so they provide two different perspectives in 
just one word. Look at this sentence, taken from the gerund section, earlier in 
this chapter: 

Felonia gave bribing the umpire serious consideration when her team lost 
its 450th game in a row. 

Without the gerund, you use more words to say the same thing: 

Felonia’s team just lost its 450th game in a row. Should she bribe the 
umpire? Felonia thought seriously about that possibility. 

Okay, you saved four words. Big deal! Well, it is a big deal over the course of a 
paragraph or a whole paper. But more important than word count is sentence 
structure. Verbals are just one more color in your crayon box when you’re 
creating a picture. Who wants the same old eight colors? Isn’t it fun to try 
something different? Gerunds, infinitives, and participles help you vary the 
pattern of your sentences. Here’s a before-and-after example: 

BORING BEFORE VERSION: Lulu smacked Ludwig. Ludwig had stolen the 
sacred toe hoop frrai/L^tQ^vpi&iqiiD^chhe sacred toe hoop was discovered 
100 years ago. Lulu’s parrot likes to sharpen his beak on it. 




24 



Part V: Rules Even Your Great- Aiint^vGrammar) Jeacher Didn't Know 



EXCITING AFTER VERSION: Smacking Ludwig is Lulu’s way of telling 
Ludwig that he should not have stolen the sacred toe hoop from her 
parrot. Discovered 100 years ago, the toe ring serves to sharpen the 
parrot’s beak. 




LABELS FOR THOSE WHO CARE: Smacking Lulu = gerund, discovered 100 
years ago = participle, to sharpen the parrot’s beak = infinitive. 

Combine these ideas into one or more sentences. 

Ludwig bakes infrequently. He does bake with enthusiasm. His best recipe 
is for king cake. King-cake batter must be stirred for three hours. Ludwig 
orders his cook to stir the batter. The cook stirs and Ludwig adds the 
raisins. Sometimes he throws in a spoonful of tuna fish. 



Answer: Many combinations are possible, including the following: 



Ludwig’s baking is infrequent but enthusiastic. His best recipe, king cake, 
requires three hours of stirring, which Ludwig orders his cook to do. 
Adding raisins and the occasional spoonful of tuna fish is Ludwig’s job. 
(The italicized words are gerunds.) 




Ludwig, who bakes infrequently but enthusiastically, excels at cooking 
king cake, which requires three hours of stirring. Ordering his cook to stir, 
Ludwig adds raisins and the occasional spoonful of tuna fish. ( who bakes 
infrequently but enthusiastically = subordinate clause, cooking king cake = 
gerund, which requires three hours of stirring = subordinate clause, ordering 
his cook = participle, to stir = infinitive) 



You're hanged, but a picture is hung 



In Legghorn's new movie, Lulu stars as the right- 
eous rebel leader hanged by the opposition. 
After the stirring execution scene, the rebels 
rally, inspired by a picture of Lulu that someone 
hung on the wail of their headquarters. 

Tohang ls a verb meaning to suspend. In the pre- 
sent tense the same verb does double duty. You 



hang a picture and you also hang a murderer, at 
least in countries with that form of capital pun- 
ishment. Past tense is different; in general, 
people are hanged and objects are hung. 



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Chapter 25 

The Last Word on Punctuation 



In This Chapter 

Understanding commas 
Using ellipses correctly 
Hyphenating made simple 

Distinguishing between parentheses and brackets 
Knowing when a slash mark is appropriate 



J^unctuation is one topic that you don’t have to worry about when you’re 
* speaking. But oh, those little specks of ink do make your life miserable 
when you’re writing. Commas, ellipses (little dots . . .), hyphens, parentheses, 
and brackets can wreak havoc on your mind. (Who invented them, anyway?) 

I haven’t even mentioned the slash, which isn’t the name of a horror movie, 
but it could be. 

Despite the terror most people feel when confronted with punctuation dilemmas, 
the rules actually follow a logical pattern. In this chapter I tackle some advanced 
punctuation rules. (For the basics of commas, see Chapter 14. For information 
about semicolons, colons, and dashes, see Chapter 15.) With just a little effort, 
you’ll find that your punctuation improves and your writing takes a giant step 
towards grammar nirvana. 



Making j/our Point Clear iVith Commas 

When you’re writing, keep in mind that each comma in your sentence should 
have a reason for being there. The most important reason, of course, is to 
make your meaning clear. Commas act as a signal to your reader. Each comma 
calls for a slight pause — not so long as a period, but a pause nonetheless. 
Commas also separate some words from the rest of the sentence. The reader 
knows that words enclosed by commas are not part of the main idea of the 
sentence 

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*20 Part V: Rules Even Your Great-AunfsGramiftarTeacher Didn't Know 



Essential or extra? i/our commas 
tell the tale 

To begin, here’s the rule that tells you when to use commas with descriptions: 
If a description is essential to the meaning of the sentence, don’t put commas 
around it. If the description is extra, non-essential information, set it off with 
commas. Consider this situation: 

In her quest to reform Ludwig’s government, Ludmilla made this statement: 

Taxes, which are a hardship for the people, are not acceptable. 

Eggworthy, who is a member of Ludwig’s Parliament, declared himself in 
complete agreement with Ludmilla’s statement. However, his version had 
no commas: 

Taxes which are a hardship for the people are not acceptable. 

What’s the difference? Do the commas really matter? Yes. They matter a lot. 
Here’s the deal: which are a hardship for the people is a description. If the 
description is set off from the rest of the sentence by commas, the description is 
extra — not essential to the meaning of the sentence. You can cross it out and 
the sentence still means the same thing. If commas do not set off the description, 
however, the description is essential to the meaning of the sentence. It may 
not be removed without altering what you are saying. Can you now see the 
difference between Ludmilla’s statement and Eggworthy’s? Here’s the original 
and expanded version of each: 

LUDMILLA’S ORIGINAL STATEMENT: Taxes, which are a hardship for the 
people, are not acceptable. 

MEANING OF LUDMILLA’S STATEMENT: The government should not 
impose taxes. Taxes are a problem for the people. They have little money 
as it is. We can run the government perfectly well by selling postage 
stamps to foreign tourists. I suggest a tasteful portrait of the royal bride 
(me) on a new stamp. No taxes — that’s the bottom line. 

Because Ludmilla’s original sentence includes commas, the description which 
are a hardship for the people is extra information. You can omit it from the 
sentence. Thus Ludmilla is against all taxes. 

EGGWORTHY’S ORIGINAL STATEMENT: Taxes which are a hardship for 
the people are not acceptable. 

MEANING OF EGGWORTHY’S STATEMENT: The government is against 
any taxes which are a hardship for the people. Of course we don’t want to 
place a burden on tb«Awi^kfcli@ifamiiiesnof our great nation. However, the 
new 90 percent income tax is not a hardship; it allows the people of this 
great nation to show their patriotism by contributing to the government 
and paying my salary. This particular income tax is acceptable. 




www.wat§fm^f 25: The Last Word on Punctuation 327 



Eggworthy’s proposal is much less extreme than Ludmilla’s. Without 
commas the description is a necessary part of the sentence. It gives the 
reader essential information about the meaning of taxes. Eggworthy opposes 
only some taxes — those taxes that he believes are a burden. He isn’t against 
all taxes. This description doesn’t simply add a reason, as Ludmilla’s does. 
Instead it identifies the taxes that Eggworthy opposes. 




The pronouns which and that may help you decide whether or not you need 
commas. That generally introduces information that the sentence can’t do 
without — essential information that isn’t set off by commas. The pronoun 
which, on the other hand, often introduces non-essential information that may 
be surrounded by commas. Keep in mind, however, that these distinctions are 
not true 100 percent of the time. Sometimes which introduces a description 
that is essential and therefore needs no commas. The pronoun that almost 
never introduces non-essential material. 



Check out these additional examples, with the description in italics: 

SENTENCE: The students who are planning a sit-in tomorrow want to be 
paid for doing homework. 

PUNCTUATION ANALYSIS: The description is not set off by commas, so 
you may not omit it. 

WHAT THE SENTENCE MEANS: Some of the students — those who are 
planning a sit-in — want to be paid for doing homework. Not all the 
students want to be paid. The rest are perfectly content to do math 
problems for absolutely no money. 



SENTENCE: The senators, planning to revolt, have given the television 
network exclusive rights to cover their rebellion. 

PUNCTUATION ANALYSIS: The commas indicate that the description is 
extra, non-essential information. 




WHAT THE SENTENCE MEANS: All the senators are involved. They’re 
quite upset, and all have prepared sound bites. 

Which sentence means that you can’t fly to Cincinnati for your cousin’s wedding? 

A. The pilots who are going on strike demand that mood music be piped into 
the cockpit. 



B. The pilots, who are going on strike, demand that mood music be piped into 
the cockpit. 



Answer: Sentence B means that all the pilots are going on strike. The description 
between the commas may be omitted without changing the meaning of the 
sentence. In sentence A, ttil!^f{f& < Mfo c flk 1 e heavy metal music are going 
on strike. 




328 



Part V: Rules Even Your Great^ml'stcGrainfiiaFTeacher Didn't Know 




The elements of the sentence that I discuss in the previous examples are 
adjective clauses and participles. See Chapter 24 for more information on 
clauses and participles. 



Do your commas hai/e 
appositive influence ? 

If you’re seeing double when you read a sentence, you’ve probably encountered 
an appositive. An appositive is a noun or a pronoun that is exactly the same as 
the noun or pronoun that precedes it in the sentence. Some appositives are set 
off by commas, and some aren’t. The rule concerning commas and appositives: 

If the appositive is more specific, don’t use commas; if the appositive is less 
specific, use commas. 

Now put the rule into practice: What’s the difference between these two 
sentences? 

Legghorn’s play Dinner at the Diner is the least understandable of all that 
he has written. 

Dinner at the Diner, Legghorn’s play, is the least understandable of all that 
he has written. 

In the first sample sentence, Dinner at the Diner is the appositive of Legghorn s 
play. In the second sample sentence, Legghorn ’s play is the appositive of 
Dinner at the Diner. 

To put the rule another way: If you’re sure that your reader will know what 
you’re talking about before he or she gets to the appositive, set off the appositive 
with commas. If you’re not sure your reader will know exactly what you’re 
talking about by the time he or she gets to the appositive, you should not use 
commas. (This rule is a variation of the rule that I explain in the preceding 
section.) If the appositive gives identifying, essential information, don’t use 
commas. If the appositive gives extra information, do use commas. 

In the first sample sentence the reader does not know which one of 
Legghorn’s plays is being discussed. The appositive supplies the name. 

Hence, the appositive is essential and isn’t set off by commas. In the second 
sample sentence the reader already knows the name of the play. The fact that 
Legghorn wrote the play is extra information and must therefore be surrounded 
by commas. 

Here are a few more examples: 

SENTENCE: Lulu sister Mary is definitely her favorite. 

APPOSITIVE: Mary is the appositive of sister. 




www.wa tQfeaptOT^&rThe Last Word on Punctuation 



PUNCTUATION ANALYSIS: Because Lulu has five sisters, you don’t know 
which sister is being discussed until you have the name. Mary identifies 
the sister and shouldn’t be placed between commas. 



SENTENCE: Lochness has only one sibling. His sister, Mary, does not 
approve of Lochness’s espionage. 

APPOSITIVE: Mary is the appositive of sister. 



,Ql)IZ 



PUNCTUATION ANALYSIS: Because Lochness has only one sibling, the 
reader knows that he has only one sister. Thus the words his sister pinpoint 
the person being discussed in the sentence. The name is extra information, 
not identifying information. Therefore, you should place the name between 
commas. 

Which sentence is correct? 



jst 



A. Lola’s mother, Lala, doesn’t approve of her daughter’s pierced toe. 



B. Lola’s mother Lala doesn’t approve of her daughter’s pierced toe. 



Answer: Sentence A is correct. Lola has only one mother, so the name is 
extra, not identifying information. 



Try another. Which sentence is correct? 



A. Lochness’s book / Am Not a Monster sold only three copies. 

B. Lochness’s book, I Am Not a Monster, sold only three copies. 



Answer: This question is a bit tricky. How many books has Lochness written? 
If he has written only one, sentence B is acceptable. If he has written more 
than one, sentence A is the better choice because the title supplies identifying 
information. 



Punctuating independently 

When you join two complete sentences with the conjunctions and, or, but, nor, 
yet, so, or for, place a comma before the conjunction. Some examples include: 

Ratrug robbed the bank, and then he went out for a hamburger. 

Analivia recorded the measurements in her notebook, and then she wrote 
a computer program to calculate the amount of orange shag carpeting 
needed to cover the floors of Ludwig’s new castle. 

Lochness spies, but\apai^^«&mstih(aiLlap®e he is not a bad fellow. 




330 



Part V: Rules Even Your GreatiAuntstcGfamina^acher Didn't Know 



The pumpkin that Lulu carved will win first prize, or Lulu will demand to 
know the reason why. 




Cedric bribed the judges of this year’s state spitball contest, for he is 
determined to qualify for the national tournament. 

For more information on conjunctions, see Chapter 7. For more information 
on complete sentences, see Chapter 5. 

Some sentences have one subject (who or what you’re talking about) and two 
verbs joined by and, but, or, and nor. Don’t put commas between the two 
verbs. You aren’t joining two complete sentences, just two words or groups 
of words. Here are some examples: 



WRONG: Ludmilla wrote a statement for the media, and then screamed at 
Ludwig for an hour. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: The sentence has one subject (Ludmilla) and two 
verbs (wrote, screamed). You aren’t joining two complete sentences, so 
you shouldn’t place a comma before and. Either way, Ludmilla should 
learn to control her temper. 

RIGHT: Ludmilla wrote a statement for the media and then screamed at 
Ludwig for an hour. 



WRONG: Ludwig has proposed a toast to his bride, but has given her 
nothing but a headache. 

WHY IT IS WRONG: The sentence has one subject (Ludwig) and two verbs 
(has proposed, has given). The word but joins the two verbs, not two 
complete sentences. You don’t need a comma. Also, Ludwig should give 
her a wedding gift. 




RIGHT: Ludwig has proposed a toast to his bride but has given her nothing 
but a headache. 

Which sentence is correct? 

A. Agwamp slits the envelope with his teeth, but Eggworthy opens the mail 
with a fork. 



B. Agwamp answers every letter on the day he receives it but doesn’t pay 
any bills. 

Answer: Both sentences are correct. In sentence A, the conjunction but joins 
two complete sentences. A comma must precede the conjunction but. In 
sentence B, but joins two verbs (answers, does pay). No comma precedes the 
conjunction. 



www.watchtvsitcoms.com 




www wa tCfaapteits25&rThe Last Word on Punctuation 



Using Those bot-bot-bots 

Are you seeing spots before your eyes? The spots are called ellipses. (One set 
is an ellipsis .) An ellipsis is made up of three dots. Ellipses show the reader 
where you’ve omitted a word or words from the middle or end of a quotation. 
(Don’t use them at the beginning of a quotation.) Ellipses may also show that 
the speaker you are quoting is hesitating. 



Indicating missing Words 

When you’re quoting someone else’s words, place three dots wherever 
you’ve left out words from the original. If you’ve removed words from the end 
of a sentence, place four dots — three for the ellipsis and one for the period 
at the end of the sentence. 

Here’s a selection from Lochness’s autobiography, edited by his publisher, 
who didn’t want the tender minds of children to become corrupted by 
Lochness’s words: 

As I slowly swam towards the. . . I saw. . . and decided then and there to 
take. . . if I could get it. The path of my life became clear. I would. . . and 
then retire to my estate in Antarctica, where I would write my memoirs 
and breed penguins. Soon after that decision I took action. . . . 

What do you notice about the quotation from Lochness’s book, apart from 
the appalling censorship? The missing words, of course! Notice how the 
ellipses take the place of one or more words. 

Some additional examples: 

SENTENCE WITH ELLIPSIS: Lola cried, “I can’t take that math exam! 

I studied the equations for hours. . . and had no time for the geometry 
chapter.” 

PUNCTUATION ANALYSIS: An ellipsis (three dots) takes the place of the 
missing words. 

WHAT’S LEFT OUT: last year, but last night I went to the movies 



Showing hesitation 

You can also use ellipses to show hesitation, particularly in dialogue: 
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What shall I do about that atomic bomb? It’s. . . ticking and I. . . . 




332 



Part V: Rules Even Your GreatnAttni'stibrainmarcTeaclier Didn't Know 




Using ellipses in this way can get really annoying really fast. Think of the dots 
as knock-knock jokes. Don’t overuse them! 

Here’s Lola’s explanation for the fact that she has no homework. The parts 
that she’ll leave out are in italics. Punctuate the quotation properly. 

I sat down at the computer last night to write the essay. I truly love writing 
essays, and I certainly want to do well in this class. I began to write shortly 
before eight o’clock. The phone rang almost immediately. / spoke with Lulu 
for no more than three hours. Then my mother asked me if I wanted a snack. 

/ said yes. / ate four or five buckets of popcorn and settled down at the 
computer. My stomach hurt, and I was very tired. I went to bed. I will do 
the essay tonight. 



Answer: Use four dots. One dot is the period at the end of the sentence (I 
began to write shortly before eight o’clock.) and three dots are the ellipsis. 



I sat down at the computer last night to write the essay. I truly love writing 
essays, and I certainly want to do well in this class. I began to write shortly 
before eight o’clock. . . . My stomach hurt, and I was very tired. I went to 
bed. I will do the essay tonight. 




I’ve been having some fun with the examples, leaving out key information. Don’t 
follow my example! One of the most important issues in writing is credibility. If 
you change the meaning of what you’re quoting by leaving out crucial details, 
your reader will discount everything you say. (Also, your teacher may fail you.) 
Check the passage you’re quoting before and after you’ve cut it. Does each 
convey the same message? If not, don’t cut. 



Made Easy 

You need hyphens to help you maneuver through unexpected line breaks and 
for a couple of other reasons as well — to separate parts of compound 
words, to write certain numbers, and to create one description from two 
words. This section provides you with a guide to the care and feeding of the 
humble hyphen. 



Understanding the great divide 

Computer users have to worry about hyphens less often than other writers. 
Most of the time, the word processing program moves a word to a new line if 
there isn’t enough room at the end of a line for the entire word. But some- 
times, when you’re w^it'hig'^^haiAfd'tOf tyiping on an old-fashioned typewriter, 
for example, you need to divide a word. And sometimes, even computer 
users need to divide a word. 




www.waK^ p^ yhg Lgjj Word 0|) p unctuation 



The British system 



The practice of dividing a word between syllables 
is American. In Britain, words are often divided 
according to the derivation (family tree) of the 
word, not according to sound. For example, in the 
American system, democracy'is divided into four 
parts — de-moc-ra-cy — because that's how it 



sounds. In the British system, the same word is 
divided into two parts — demo-cracy — 
because the word is derived from two ancient 
Greek forms, demos and kratia, Letthe dictionary 
of the country you're in be the final authority on 
dividing words. 



Why should you divide a word? Mostly to make your writing look better. The 
computer allows a ragged right margin, but if you have a very long word — 
antidisestablishmentarianism, for example — the computer will move it to a 
new line when you’ve typed only half of the preceding line. (By the way, 
antidisestablishmentarianism is a real word. Look it up, but not in a pocket 
dictionary. It’s too long and too unimportant for an abridged dictionary.) 

If you have to divide a word, follow these simple rules: 

u 0 Place the hyphen between the syllables, or sounds, of a word. (If you’re 
not sure where the syllable breaks are in a word, check the dictionary.) 

v 0 Don’t leave only one letter on a line. If you have a choice, divide the 
word more or less in the middle. 

v 0 Don’t divide words that have only one syllable. 

u* To divide a word, be sure to use a hyphen, which is a short line. Don’t 
use a dash, which is a longer line and a completely different punctuation 
mark. (See Chapter 15 for more information on dashes.) 



Using hyphens (or compound Words 

Hyphens also separate parts of compound words, such as ex-wife, pro- 
choice, one-way, and so forth. When you type or write these words, don’t put 
a space before or after the hyphen. If you don’t know whether a particular 
expression is a compound word, a single word, or two separate words, check 
the dictionary. 




Are you wondering how to capitalize compound words? Most of the time, you 
should capitalize both words. All the parts of a person’s title are capitalized, 
except for prepositions and articles: Secretary-General, Commander-in-Chief. 
Don’t capitalize the prefix ex-: ex-President Carter, ex-Attorney-General. Words 
that are capitalized f o r w some a offi e s r* 1 r e a s o ri |j) e r h a p s because they’re part of a 







Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Airvrt^Atoiiimairii'eaeher Didn't Know 



book title or a headline) follow a different rule. Always capitalize the first half. 
Capitalize the second half of the compound if it’s a noun, or if the second half 
of the compound is equal in importance to the first half: Secretary-General 
Lola, President-elect Lulu. (For more information on capitalization, see 
Chapter 15.) 



Placing hyphens in numbers 

Decisions about whether to write a numeral or a word are questions of style, 
not of grammar. The authority figure in your life — teacher, boss, parole 
officer, whatever — will tell you what he or she prefers. In general, larger 
numbers are usually represented by numerals: 

Lochness has been arrested 683 times, counting last night. 

However, on various occasions you may need to write the word, not the 
numeral. If the number falls at the beginning of a sentence, for example, you 
must use words because no sentence may begin with a numeral. You may 
also need to write about a fractional amount. Here’s how to hyphenate: 

u* Hyphenate all the numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine. 

v* Hyphenate all fractions used as descriptions (three-quarters full, for 
example). 

u* Don’t hyphenate fractions used as nouns (three quarters of the money; 
one third of all registered voters). 



Utilizing the Well-placed hyphen 

Here’s another simple rule concerning hyphens, but one that may be on the 
way out. (A little personal story here: A young man I know was thrilled to be 
accepted to the staff of the law review of his school. At the first meeting, the 
editor addressed the new recruits on the hyphen issue, explaining that the 
magazine had decided to drop the hyphen from two-word descriptions. “I 
knew then that it was going to be a very long year,” he sighed.) Anyway, if you 
want to follow the rule, here it is: If two words are being used as a single 
description, put a hyphen between them if the description comes before the 
word that it’s describing. For example: 




a well-placed hyphen — BUT — the hyphen is well placed. 

Don’t hyphenate two-word descriptions if the first word ends in -ly: 
www.watchtvsitcoms.com 




www.watc hQhftpteic25: The Last Word on Punctuation 




nicely drawn rectangle 
fully understood idea 
completely ridiculous grammar rule 

Place hyphens where they’re needed. 

Lulu was recently elected secretary treasurer of her club, the All Star 
Athletes of Antarctica. Lulu ran on an anti ice platform that was accepted 
by two thirds of the members. 

Answer: Here’s the paragraph with the hyphens inserted, along explanations 
in parentheses: 

Lulu was recently elected secretary-treasurer (hyphen needed for 
compound title) of her club, the All-Star (hyphen needed for two-word 
description) Athletes of Antarctica. Lulu ran on an anti-ice (hyphen 
needed for two-word description) platform that was accepted by two 
thirds (no hyphen for fractions not used as descriptions) of the members. 

Sprinkling Parentheses and Brackets 
throughout \lour Writing 

What’s the difference between brackets and parentheses? Brackets are straight 
and parentheses are curved, of course. They both serve the same function: 
separating information from the rest of the sentence. If you’ve studied math, 
you know that brackets generally enclose expressions with parentheses 
inside. In one of the more annoying customs of English grammar, the opposite 
is true in writing. If you have material in parentheses and you need to separate 
some of it from the main idea, use brackets: 

Ludwig declared that the new tax rate would be 95 percent (not 90 percent 
as had been reported earlier [see “Tax Rate Rises” in last week’s issue]). 

You also need brackets when you quote to show a comment that you, the writer, 
have inserted into someone else’s words. Writers often use brackets in this way 
to enclose a useful little word — sic. When you quote something that is spelled 
wrong, said wrong, or is just dead wrong, the word sic means that the mistake 
was made by the person you’re quoting, not by you. Here’s an example: 

Eggworthy declared, “I shall not surrender the presidentiary [sic] until all 
the ballots are counted.” 



,&uiz 







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Part V: Rules Even Your Great-Auot'SvQrftminafisT^aeher Didn't Know 



A few more rules (sigh) for parentheses: 

v* Don’t overuse them. (Seeing parentheses sprinkled all over a paragraph 
is boring and annoying.) Work the material in the parentheses into the 
main, logical thread of the paragraph (if at all possible). (See what I 
mean about annoying?) 

v* If the parenthetical expression needs any punctuation, put the punctuation 
inside the parenthesis. 

i * If the rest of the sentence (not the parenthetical material) requires any 
punctuation, put the punctuation outside the parenthesis. 



Stashing \lour Sentences 

If any grammarian is worried about the slash, he/she should simply relax. 
The slash seldom appears in your writing, and/or you’re unlikely to need it. 
The computer has probably done more to increase the number of slashes 
than any other machine/event/application. Are you tired/irritated/angry with 
this paragraph yet? Answer yes/no. 




Okay, here’s the deal. Use the slash when you need to present two or more 
alternatives, but pretend that it’s the hottest chili pepper imaginable and you 
have just had dental surgery. How many chili peppers do you want in your 
food? That’s how many slashes you should place in your writing — very, 
very few. 



Slashes have one other important job. If you’re writing about poetry and 
quoting some lines, the slash shows the reader where the poet ended one 
line and began another. Here’s an excerpt from Legghorn’s essay on a poem 
written by Lulu: 



The exertion of mountain climbing has contributed to the imagery Lulu 
employs in her poem “Everest or Nothing”: “and then the harsh/breath of 
the mountain/meets the harsh/breath of the climber/I am/the climber.” 



The slashes tell us that the lines of Lulu’s poem were arranged as follows: 



and then the harsh 
breath of the mountain 
meets the harsh 
breath of the climber 
I am 

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the climber. 




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Part VI 

The Part of Tens 



The 5 th Wave By Rich Tennant 




"oh, he 'e brilliant all right. ‘but have -you 
evev noticed the grammar in lais memos? 
c Ong need helicon antenna,., Org need ion 
cgclotvon.. awl%ter. t ..'" 




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In this part . . . 

7 his section opens the door to a grammatical life 
beyond English Grammar For Dummies. After you’ve 
absorbed the rules of grammar, you’ve still got to apply 
them. Chapter 26 provides ten strategies to improve your 
proofreading. (After reading this chapter, you’ll never sign 
a letter “Yurs turly” again.) Chapter 27 lists ten ways to 
train your ear for good English, a process that inevitably 
improves your speech and writing. You may not follow all 
the suggestions that I give you (especially the one that 
tells you to hang out with nerds), but you’ll find at least 
some appealing. 



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Chapter 26 

Ten Ways two to Improve 
Your Proofreading 



In This Chapter 

► Checking your work with the help of a computer 

► Proofreading more effectively 



• « 9 t # 



\w ou read it 50 times and finally put it in the mail. It was so important that 
^ ■ you cried when the clerk at the post office threw it into a bin and a 
corner of the envelope creased. You dried your eyes, went home, and, unable 
to calm your fears, sat down to read the text for the 51st time. And that’s when 
you finally saw it — an error. Not a little error, but a big one. An embarrassing 
one. The ink equivalent of a pimple on the tip of your nose. 



Sound familiar? If so, you need some proofreading help. In this chapter, I give 
you ten tricks to improve that all-important final check. 



Read Backward 

Okay, I know that reading backward sounds crazy, but successful proofreading 
is about breaking habits. If you read something over and over, after a while 
you’re on automatic pilot. Your eye jumps at exactly the same spot simply 
because that’s where it jumped before. So if you missed the error the first 
time, you’ll miss it again. You’ve got to do something different to break the 
monotony of reviewing your work. If you read backward (word by word, not 
the letters that make up a word), you’re in a good frame of mind to catch 
spelling errors because reading in the wrong direction means that you must 
check each word separately. If you read backward, you can’t swing through a 
sentence by hopping to every fifth or sixth word. 



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340 Part VI: The Part of Tens 



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Wait a White 

Your work is done, you’ve read it, and you’ve made the corrections. Now what 
do you do? Put it away and do something else. Go water-skiing, run for president, 
or clean the closet, and then come back to the writing — refreshed and with a 
new point of view. You’ll see your work with new eyes — and find mistakes. 

Of course, this method works only if you’ve left some time before the deadline. 
If you finish your report three nano-seconds before the boss wants to see it, 
you’ll have to forgo this method of proofreading. 



Read It Aloud 

1 know, I know. You don’t want to sound like a dork. But reading aloud helps 
you hear your writing in a different way. So put the radio on or lock yourself 
in the bathroom. Take the paper and read the words in a normal speaking 
voice. Did you stumble anywhere? If so, you may have come across an error. 
Stop, circle the spot, and continue. Later, check all the circles. Chances are 
you’ll find something that should be different. 



Delete Half of the Commas 

During the last two weeks of the grading period, students visit me with their 
rough drafts in hand for a quick check before the final, graded copy is due. 
Privately I think of that time as Comma Season. I spend most of the day deleting 
hundreds of punctuation marks. (I also add a handful or two.) If you’re like 
most people, your writing has commas where none are needed. Go back and 
check each one. Is there a reason for that comma? If you can’t identify a reason, 
take the comma out. 



Swap With a Friend 

The best proofreading comes from a fresh pair of eyes. After you’ve written 
your essay, report, parole petition, or whatever, swap with a friend. You’ll see 
possible errors in your friend’s writing, and he or she will see some in yours. 
Each of you should underline the potential errors before returning the paper. 
Make sure you check those sections with special care. 



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Chapter 2®^Tertf Ways1w»to Improve Your Proofreading 34 / 



Let the Computer Help 

Not foolproof, by any means, the computer is nevertheless helpful. After you’ve 
finished writing, go back and check the red and green lines (or whatever signal 
your grammar and spelling checkers supply). Don’t trust the computer to make 
the corrections for you; the machine makes too many mistakes. The computer 
identifies only possible mistakes and misses many errors (homonyms, for 
example). Let your own knowledge of grammar and a good dictionary help 
you decide whether you need to change something. 



Check the Verbs 

Traps sprinkled in every sentence — that’s the way you should look at verbs. 
Give your work an extra verb check before you declare it finished. Consider 
number: Should the verb be singular or plural? Consider tense: Have you chosen 
the correct one? Do you have any sentences without verbs? If so, take care of 
the problem. 



Check the Pronouns 

Pronouns present potential pitfalls and are also worthy of their own special 
moment. Give your work an extra once over, this time checking all the pronouns. 
Singular or plural — did you select the appropriate number? Does each pronoun 
refer to a specific noun? Did you avoid sexist pronoun usage? Did you give a 
subject pronoun a job suited to an object pronoun, or vice versa? 



Knout J four Typing Style 

I have a tendency to hold the shift key down a little too long, so many of my 
words have two capital letters: THe, KNow, and so on. Do you have a mistake 
that results from your typing style? Notice when you have to backspace as 
you type and then check for similar errors when you finish typing. 



The Usual Suspects 

Look at your earlier writing, preferably something that was corrected by a 
teacher or someone else in a position to point out your mistakes. Where is the 
red ink concentrated? Those red-ink areas are the usual suspects that you 
should identify in future writing. For instance, if you have a number of run-on 




3b2 



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sentences in an old paper, chances are you’ll put a few in a new paper. Put 
“run-on” on your personal list of common errors. Don’t let any piece of writing 
leave your desk until you’ve searched specifically for those errors. 



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Chapter 27 

Ten Ways to Learn 
Better Grammar 



... * 4 *•. A 4 v 4* i.v * & ;V f. ■*! -v <v • ••*»«• • #««#« ^ % 

In This Chapter 

► Going beyond English Grammar For Dummies to improve your grammar 
Using real-world resources to train your ear for good grammar 



IX es, I admit it. This book helps you learn grammar, but (sigh) it’s not the 
only way to improve your communication skills. A few other resources 
may also help you in your quest for perfect language. In this chapter, I suggest 
ten ways to learn better grammar. 



Read Good Books 

You probably won’t get far with Biker Babes and Their Turn-ons or You’re a 
Butthead: The Sequel to Snot-Nose. But good books usually contain good writing, 
and if you read some, pretty soon your own speech and writing will improve. 
How do you know whether a particular volume contains good writing? Check 
the reviews, ask the bookstore clerk, or read the blurb (the comments on the 
book’s jacket). Classics are always a choice, but you may also find modern 
texts, both fiction and non-fiction, written according to the best grammar rules. 

The point is to expose your mind to proper English. When you read, you hear 
the author’s voice. You become accustomed to proper language. After a while 
correct grammar sounds natural to you, and you detect non-standard English 
more easily. 



Watch Good TV Shouts 

www.watchtvsitcoms.com 

When I say to watch good TV shows, I’m not talking about programs with 
audio tracks that are mostly grunts, such as wrestling. I’m referring to shows 
in which people actually converse. Programs on the nerd networks are a good 




344 Part VI: The Part of Tens 



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bet. You know the shows I mean; the producers assume that the audience 
wants to learn something. The screen has a lot of talking heads (images of 
commentators, not the rock band) with subtitles explaining why each is an 
expert. Watch them in secret if you’re afraid of ruining your reputation, 
and pay attention to the words. Don’t expect to pick up the finer points of 
grammar on TV, but you can get some pointers on the basics. 



Peruse the Neats 

News broadcasts on radio, television, and the Internet are fine sources of 
literate (okay, semi-literate on some networks) role models. You can train your 
ear for grammar at the same time that you learn a lot about current events. 
Just think of the advantage when you need a pick-up line. Instead of “Come 
here often?” or “What’s your sign?” you can mention the Russian policy on 
Afghanistan. (On second thought, maybe you should stick to astrology.) 



Read the Newspaper 

Well, read some newspapers. Years ago I started to “pay” my students one 
point for each grammar error that they found in print. I eventually had to rule 
out a couple of publications because it was just too easy to gather material. 
Avoid publications that report Elvis sightings and have headlines like “Man 
with Four Arms Tests Deodorant for a Living.” Read with a grammarian’s eye 
(if the thought isn’t too frightening for you), absorbing how the writer 
expresses an idea. 



Flip through Magazines 

If all the words in a magazine are in little bubbles above brightly colored 
drawings, you may not find complete sentences and proper pronoun usage. 
However, most published writers have at least the fundamentals of good 
grammar, and you can learn a lot from reading publications aimed at an 
educated audience. How do you know whether a publication is aimed at an 
educated audience? Check the articles. If they seem to address issues that you 
associate with thoughtful readers, you’re okay. Even if they address issues 
that aren’t associated with thoughtful readers, you may still be okay. Reading 
well-written magazine articles will give you some models of reasonably 
correct grammar. And as a side effect, you’ll learn something. 



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"CfiSiptler27:TeHWaYS to Learn Better Grammar 



Visit Nerd Hangouts 

Before I say anything else, let me mention that nerd is a word based on value 
judgments. What most people deem nerdy (or whatever the current slang 
equivalent is), others may call educated. I’m not saying that the locker room 
or the corner bar is filled with uneducated people. I’m saying that you ought 
to investigate some spots where people gather when they’re in the mood to 
talk on a level above “the defense creamed us last night.” Try a bookstore, a 
science lab, or a concert. Listen to what the people around you are saying 
and how they’re saying it. Your ear for good grammar will sharpen over time. 



Check Out Strunk and U/fiite 

The best book ever written on writing, in my humble opinion, is The Elements 
of Style (Allyn and Bacon). This book is so tiny that it fits into your shirt 
pocket. Authors William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (yes, the fellow who wrote 
Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little') tackle a few grammar issues and make 
important points about style. You’ll spend an hour reading it and a lifetime 
absorbing its lessons. 



Listening to Authorities 

Listen f Your teacher or boss probably says that word often, and you should 
(pause to arrange a dutiful expression) always do what your personal authority 
figure says. Apart from all the other reasons, you should listen in order to learn 
better grammar. By speaking properly, he or she is probably giving you English 
lessons along with descriptions of the Smoot-Whatever Tariff Act, the projected 
sales figures, and so forth. 



Reviewing Manuals of Stgle 



No, manuals of style won’t tell you whether eggplant is one of this year’s 
approved colors or what kind of nose ring Hollywood favors. They will tell 
you, however, in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail, where to put every 
punctuation mark ever invented, what to capitalize, how to address an 
ambassador, and lots of other things that you never really wanted to know. 
Some universities and a few groups of recognized rule-creators publish 
manuals of style. If you’re writing a term paper or a business report, ask your 
teacher or boss which manual of style he or she favors. Use the recommended 
book as a reference for the picky little things and as a guide to the important 
issues of writing. 





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Surfing the Internet 

I can’t leave this one out, though the Internet contains as many traps as it 
does guiding lights. Type grammar in a search engine and press enter. Sit 
back and prepare yourself for a flood of sites explaining the rules of grammar. 
Some sites are very good; some are horrible. Look for university- or school- 
sponsored URLs (Web addresses). 



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Index 



• Symbols • 

’ (apostrophe), 150. See also contractions; 

possessive 
: (colon) 

business letters, addressing, 196 
lists, introducing, 196-197 
quotations, introducing, 197-198 
sentences, combining, 198-199 
, (comma), 325 
addresses, 187-188 
appositives, 328-329 
conjunctions, 84-86, 329-330 
dates, 188-189 
descriptions and, 326-327 
in a descriptive list, 183-186 
introductory words, 190 
quotations, 165-167, 169 
selecting, separating independent and 
subordinate clauses, 316-317 
semicolons and, 317 
in a series, 182-183 
which/that, 327 
. . . (ellipsis), 65-67, 331-332 
! (exclamation point), 65-67 
. (period), 65-67 
abbreviations, 215 
quotations, 165-167 
? (question mark), 65-67 
quotations, 170-172 
; (semicolons), 87-88, 191-192 
commas and, 317 
lists, separating items, 194-195 
quotations, 172-173 

•A • 



acronyms, compared to abbreviations, 215 
action verbs, 25 

complements, direct objects, 70-72 
linking verbs, distinguishing between, 26 
active verbs, 233-234 
advantages, 234-235 
active voice 
advantages, 234-235 
shifting to passive, 274-275 
addresses, commas in, 187-188 
adjectival phrases, 114 
adjectival prepositional phrases, 249 
adjectives, 96 

adverbs, distinguishing from, 102-104 
common mistakes, avoiding, 108-110 
descriptive lists, commas and, 183-184 
difficult adverb/adjective pairs, selecting 
between, 104-108 
identifying, 98-99 
infinitives, 320 
linking verbs, 97-98 
objective complements, 73-74 
parallel sentence construction, 269-270 
participles, 237 

prepositional phrases and, 1 14 
pronouns, 97 

subordinate clauses, 313-314 
adverbial phrases, 114 
adverbs, 53, 99-101 

adjectives, distinguishing from, 102-104 
common mistakes, avoiding, 108-110 
describing other adverbs and adjectives, 
101-102 

descriptive lists, commas and, 183-184 
difficult adverb/adjective pairs, selecting 
between, 104-108 
infinitives, 320 



a lot, 30 

a/an (articles), selecting, 118 
abbreviations, 214-216 
compared to acronyms, 215 



locating, 100-101 
prepositional phrases and, 114 
sentence subject and, 52-53 



.. , subordinate clauses, 313-314 

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English Grammar For Dummies/ vww.watchtvsitcoms.com 



affect/effect, 58 
agreement, 131 
verb tenses and, 132-135 
all, subject-verb agreement and, 142 
all right, 30 
all together, 30 
almost, 109-110 
also, 90 

semicolons and, 193 
altogether, 30 
alumna/alumnae, 133 
alumnus/alumni, 133 
among/between, 114 

analysis, subject-verb agreement and, 146 
analysis/analyses, 133 
and, 63-65 

another, commas and, 184 
antecedents, 120-121, 300-301 
placement of, 125-126 
any, subject-verb agreement and, 142 
any way, 30 
anybody, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
anyone, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
anything, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
anyway, 30 

apostrophes (’), 150. See also contractions; 

possessive 
appositives, 223-224 
commas and, 328-329 
articles, 117-118 

•B • 

bad/badly, 106 
bad/worse/worst, 260 
because/since, 93 
because of/due to, 22 
become, 18-19 
being that, 93 

being verbs. See linking verbs 
besides, semicolons and, 193 
between/among, 114 
books, titles of, 178-179 



brackets, rules for using, 335-336 
business letters, 13 
addressing, colons and, 196 
but, 63-65 

• C • 

cannot help but, 293-294 
can’t hardly, 294-296 
capital letters, 203 
abbreviations, 214-215 
countries, 208-209 
directions (geographical), 207 
ethnicity, 209 

family relationship titles, 205-207 
geographical features, 208 
historic events and eras, 213-214 
numbers in sentences, 57 
official titles (people), 204-205 
poetry, 216 
quotations, 167, 169 
race, 209 

school courses, 210-211 
school grade levels, 211 
seasons, 210 
time, 210 
titles, 212-213 

cases, 25. See also nominative 
pronouns; objective pronouns; 
possessive pronouns 
CD-ROMs, titles of, 178-179 
chapters, titles of, 178-179 
cities, capitalization, 208 
clarity, 66 
clauses 

appropriate content, 318 
coordinate conjunctions and, 84 
improving sentences, 323 
independent, 311-313 
independent, joining with subordinate, 
88-89 

independent, separating from 
subordinate, 315-316 
noun clauses, 314 
sentences and, 309-311 
subordinate, 311-314 



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index 34$ 



colons (:), 195-196 
business letters, addressing, 196 
lists, introducing, 196-197 
quotations, introducing, 197-198 
sentences, combining, 198-199 
comma splice, 85, 92 

commands, subjunctive mood and, 290-292 
commas (,), 325 
addresses, 187-188 
appositives, 328-329 
conjunctions, 84-86, 329-330 
dates, 188-189 
descriptions and, 326-327 
in a descriptive list, 183-186 
direct address, 186 
introductory words, 190 
quotations, 165-167, 169 
selecting, separating independent and 
subordinate clauses, 316-317 
semicolons and, 317 
in a series, 182-183 
splice, 85, 92 
which/that, 327 

company names, pronouns and, 307 
comparative grammar, 10 
comparisons 
double, 268 
equally, 263 
illogical, 266-267 
improper, avoiding, 281-282 
incomplete, 264-266 
irregular, 260-261 
perfect, 262-263 
unique, 261-262 
word endings, 255-260 
comparative words, 259 
complements 

action verbs, direct objects, 70-72 
action verbs, indirect objects, 72-73 
linking verbs and, 21, 74-75 
locating, 75-76 
mixing types, avoiding, 75 
objective, 73-74 
prepositional phrases and, 73 
subject complements, 74-75 
subject, pronouns and, 78 
types of, 69 



complete predicate, verbs and, 28 
compound possessive forms, 153-154 
hyphenated words, 155-156 
compound subject, 46-47 
compound subject pronouns, 222-223 
linking verbs, 226-227 
compound verbs, 46-47 
compound words, hyphenation, 333-334 
computers, spelling and grammar 
checkers, 15-16 
conjunctions, 63, 192 
clauses and, 84 
commas and, 84-86, 329-330 
coordinate, 84 
correlatives, 277-279 
false joiners, 90, 192-194 
sentences, beginning with, 86 
in a series, commas and, 182-183 
subordinate, 89-91, 192 
consequently, 90 
semicolons and, 193 

consonant sounds, articles, selecting, 118 
continuous/continual, 106-107 
contractions, 158-159 
common mistakes, avoiding, 159-161 
poetry and, 162 
conversational English, 11-12 
appropriateness, 14-15, 79 
coordinate conjunctions, 84, 192 
copulative verbs, 19 
correlatives, 277-279 
could of, 160-161 

countries, capitalization of, 208-209 
courses (school), capitalization, 210-211 

•/) • 

dangling modifiers, 249-251 
infinitives, 251 
dashes, 199-202 
dates, commas, 188-189 
datum/data, 133 
definite articles, 118 
deity names, capitalization and, 207 
dependent clauses, relative pronouns, 94 



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English Grammar For Dummiesv ww.watchtvsitcoms.com 



description 
adjectives, 96-99 
adverbs, 99-102 

clarity, word placement and, 252-253 
commas and, 326-327 
importance of, 95-96 
linking verbs, completing sentences, 22-23 
lists, commas and, 183-186 
subordinate clauses, 313-314 
word placement and, 247-249 
descriptive grammar, 10 
diagramming sentences, 16 
dictionaries, explanation of entries in, 
256-257 

direct address, commas and, 186 
direct objects, 228 
action verbs and, 70-72 
objective complements and, 73-74 
pronouns, 78 

done, helping verbs and, 242 
double comparisons, 268 
double negatives, 103 
cannot help but, 293-294 
can’t hardly, 294-296 
due to/because of, 22 

each, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 143-144 
each other, 30 

economics, subject-verb agreement and, 146 
effect/affect, 58 
either, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 144-145 
either/or, selecting verbs, 280 
ellipsis (. . .), 65-67, 331-332 
e-mail, conversational English and, 12 
endmarks, 65-67 
equally, 263 

essays, titles of, 178-179 
ethnicity, capitalization, 209 
even, 108-109 
every day, 30 
everybody, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 



everyday, 30 
everyone, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
everything, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
exclamation point (!), 65-67 
quotations, 172 

• F • 

family relationship titles, capitalization 
and, 205-206 
farther/further, 110 
few, commas and, 184 
first person, 276 
formal English, 11, 13-14 
appropriateness, 14-15, 79 
fragments, 59, 63-65 
avoiding, 91-92 
friendspeak, 11-12 
appropriateness, 14-15 
functional grammar, 10-1 1 
further/farther, 110 
furthermore, 90 

future perfect progressive tense, 38 
future perfect tense, 36, 38 
subject-verb agreement and, 132, 134-135 
future progressive tense, 33-34, 36 
future tense, 33-34, 36 
questions, subject-verb agreement, 
138-139 

subject-verb agreement and, 132 

• G • 

gender/sex, 129 

geographical directions, capitalization 
and, 207 

geographical features, capitalization, 208 
gerunds, 318-319 
possessive pronouns and, 231-232 
God (deity names), capitalization and, 207 
good/better/best, 260 
good/well, 105-106 
grammar, 11 

advantages to learning, 10 
c Srftis , fi 1 quotation rules compared to 
American, 174 



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Index 35 1 



clarity, importance of, 66 
evolution of, 67 
history, they/their, 124 
history of, in America, 52 
history of, in England, 44 
learning, references sources, 343-346 
types of, 10-14 
grammar checkers, 15-16 

• H • 

hanged/hung, 324 
helping verbs, 26 
done and, 242 
future tense and, 33-34 
questions, subject-verb agreement and, 
137-139 
tense, 39 
here 

sentence subject and, 52-53 
subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
verbs, selecting, 53 
historic, selecting correct article, 118 
historic/historical, 308 
historical grammar, 10 
historical present tense, 37 
history (events and eras), capitalization of, 
213-214 

history of English grammar, 44 
homonyms, 15-16 
to/too/two, 296 
however, 90 

semicolons with, 192-194 
hyphenated plural nouns, forming, 57 
hyphenation, 332-333 
British system, 333 
compound words, 333-334 
numbers, 334 

possessive words, 155-156 
two-word descriptions, 334-335 

•1 • 

I, as subject, 50 
if/whether, 64 
subjunctive mood and, 291 
illogical comparisons, 266-267 
imperative mood, 286-287 



implied comparisons, pronouns and, 225 
implied subject, 49-50, 254-253 
complete sentences and, 60 
incomplete comparisons, 264-266 
indeed, semicolons and, 193 
indefinite articles, 118 
independent clauses, 311-313 
joining with subordinate clauses, 88-89 
subordinate clauses, separating from, 
315-316 

indicative mood, 285-286 
indirect objects, 228 
action verbs and, 72-73 
locating, 76-78 
pronouns, 78 

infinitives, 28-29, 61, 243, 318-320 
danglers, 251 

parallel sentence construction, 270 
split, 29, 44 

verb-infinitive pattern, 292 
interjections, 117 
introductory participle, 250 
introductory words, commas and, 190 
irregardless, 93 

irregular comparisons, 260-261 
irregular plural nouns, forming, 56 
irregular possessives, 153 
irregular verbs 
participles, 42-43 
to be, 41-42 
it/they, 305 
its/it ’s, 121, 123-124 

• L • 

lay/lie, 289 

least (comparisons), two-word 
descriptions, 258 

less 

commas and, 184 

comparisons, two-word descriptions, 258 
letters 

addressing, 196 
conversational English and, 12 
formal English and, 13 



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352 English Grammar For Dummie^ ww watchtvsltcoms com 



lie/lay, 289 
linking verbs, 17-21 

action verbs, distinguishing between, 26 
adjectives, 97-98 

compound subjects, pronouns and, 
226-227 
list of, 21 

sensory verbs, 20-21 
sentences, completing with pronouns, 
23-25 

sentences, options for completing, 21-23 
subject complements and, 74-75 
lists 

commas in a series, 182-183 
descriptions, commas and, 183-186 
introducing, colons, 196-197 
separating items with semicolons, 194-195 
little/less/least, 260 
-ly test (sorting adverbs and 
adjectives), 103-104 

• M • 

magazine articles, titles of, 178-179 
magazines, titles of, 178-179 
manuals of style, 217 
many, commas and, 184 
many/more/most, 260 
mathematics, subject-verb agreement 
and, 145-146 
me, correct use of, 50 
memos (business), 13 
Middle English, 44 

money, subject-verb agreement and, 136 
mood (verbs), 285 
imperative, 286-287 
indicative, 285-286 
subjunctive, 287-293 
more 

commas and, 184 

comparisons, two-word descriptions, 258 
moreover, 90 
semicolons and, 193 
most 

comparisons, two-word descriptions, 258 



• N • 

negative statements, subject-verb 
agreement and, 139 
neither, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 144-145 
neither/nor, selecting verbs, 280 
nevertheless, semicolons and, 193 
news, subject-verb agreement and, 145-146 
newspaper articles, titles of, 178-179 
newspapers, titles of, 178-179 
no one, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
nobody, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
nominative pronouns, 25, 222. See also 
subject pronouns 

none, subject-verb agreement and, 142 
non-standard usage, 1 1 
nor, 63-65 
nothing, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142 
noun clauses, 314 
nouns 

adjectives and, 96-97 
appositives, 223-224 
articles, 117-118 

collective, pronouns and, 304-306 
compound possessive forms, 153-154 
due to, correct use of, 22 
hyphenated plural, forming, 57 
hyphenated possessive forms, 155-156 
infinitives, 320 
irregular plural, forming, 56 
irregular possessive forms, 153 
linking verbs, completing sentences, 23 
objective complements, 73 
parallelism and, 278 
plural possessive forms, 151-154 
possessive forms, 150 
prepositional phrases, 113 
proper, possessive and, 154 
regular plural, forming, 54-55 
relationships, creating with prepositions, 
111-112 



SUb J e £n erb agreement and ' 14 5ww.watchtvsitco^Smolons and, 87-88 

much, 260 singular ending in s, possessive forms, 

mumps, subject-verb agreement and, 146 156-157 



myself, correct use, 50 




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Index 353 



singular possessive forms, 150-151 
subject and, 45 
subordinate clauses, 313 
y ending, forming plural, 55-56 
numbers 

apostrophes and, 162 
in descriptive lists, commas and, 184 
hyphenation, 334 
subject, capital letters and, 57 

• 0 • 

object pronouns, 115-116, 228 
compound, selecting, 229-230 
objective complements, 73-74 
objects 
direct, 70-72 
indirect, 72-73 
indirect, locating, 76-78 
infinitives and, 28 

parallel sentence construction, 269-270 
of prepositions, 112-114, 228-229 
prepositions, identifying, 113-114 
pronouns, 78, 228 
relative pronouns, 94 
subordinate clauses, 314 
verbs and, 76 
whom/whomever, 297 
of, possessive nouns forms and, 150-152 
official titles (people), capitalization, 
204-205 
Old English, 44 
one, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
only, 110 
or, 63-65 

other, commas and, 184 
ownership. See possessive 

• P • 

paragraphs, quotations, 175-176 
parallel constructions, 269-272 
correlative conjunctions, 277-279 
nouns and pronouns, 278 



parentheses, rules for using, 335-336 
parenthesis/parentheses, 133 
participles, 237, 320-322 
description and, 249 
introductory, 250 
past and present, 40 
present, 242 
parts of speech, 10 
adverbs, changing, 101 
nouns and verbs, changing, 99 
verbs and, 28 
passive verbs, 233-234 
passive voice, shifting to active, 274-275 
past participles, 40 
irregular verbs, 42-43 
past perfect progressive tense, 37-38 
past perfect tense, 37-38 
subject-verb agreement and, 132 
past progressive tense, 32-33, 35 
subject-verb agreement and, 134 
past tense, 32-33, 35. See also tense 
questions, subject-verb agreement, 138 
subject-verb agreement and, 132 
suppose and, 29 
perfect, 262-263 
perfect tense, 36 
period (.), 65-67 
abbreviations, 215 
quotations, 165-167 
person, shifting, 276-277 
phenomenon/phenomena, 133 
plays, titles of, 178-179 
plural 

compound possessive forms, 153-154 
hyphenated nouns, forming, 57 
irregular nouns, forming, 56 
irregular possessive forms, 153 
nouns, possessive forms, 151-154 
nouns, y endings and, 55-56 
possessive pronouns, 123-124 
pronouns, 121-122 
regular nouns, forming, 54-55 
regular verbs, 41-42 
subject-verb agreement and, 132-135 
unusual forms, 133 
verbs, choosing, 54 



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poems 

capitalization and, 216 
contractions and, 162 
titles of, 178-179 

politics, subject-verb agreement and, 
144-145 

possessive, 150 

common errors, avoiding, 157-158 
compound forms, 153-154 
hyphenated words, 155-156 
of and, 150-152 
plural noun forms, 151-154 
pronouns, 157-158, 230-231 
proper nouns, 154-155 
singular noun forms, 150-151 
singular nouns ending in s, 156-157 
possessive pronouns 
gerunds and, 231-232 
singular/plural, 123-124 
predicate, verbs and, 28 
predicate adjective, 21 
predicate nominative, 21 
prepositional phrases, 112. See also 
prepositions 

adjectives/adverbs and, 114 
description and, 249 
indirect objects and, 73 
parallel sentence construction, 271 
subject-verb agreement, 140-141 
subject-verb pairs and, 114-115 
types of, 114 

prepositions, 111-11 2. See also 
prepositional phrases 
list of, 112 

object pronouns, 115-116 
objects and, 112-114, 228-229 
sentences, ending with, 116-117 
present participles, 40, 242 
irregular verbs, 42 
present perfect infinitive, 243 
present perfect progressive tense, 36-37 
present perfect tense, 36-37, 38-39 
subject-verb agreement and, 134-135 



present progressive tense, 32, 34-35 
subject-verb agreement and, 134 
present tense, 32, 34-35, 245-246 
progressive tense, 32 
pronouns, 119 
adjectives, 97 

antecedents, 120-121, 300-301 
antecedents, placement, 125-126 
appositives, 223-224 
cases, 25, 221 

collective nouns and, 304-306 
common errors, avoiding, 127-130 
company names and, 307 
comparisons in sentences, 225-226 
compound subject, 222-223 
compound subject, linking verbs and, 
226-227 

due to, correct use of, 22 
linking verbs, completing sentences, 23-25 
object pronouns, 78, 115-116, 228 
parallelism and, 278 
possessive, 157-158, 230-231 
possessive, singular/plural, 123-124 
prepositional phrases, 113 
relationships, creating with prepositions, 
111-112 
relative, 94 

selecting, separating independent and 
subordinate clauses, 316 
sentences, combining, 92-94 
sexist language and, 129-130 
singular/plural, 121-122 
subject and, 45 
subject complements, 78 
subject pronouns, 24-25, 221-222 
subject-verb agreement, common 
problems with, 142-143 
subordinate clauses, 313 
vague references, 302-304 
verb agreement and, 301-302 
who/whom, 297-300 
proofreading, 339-342 
proper nouns, possessive forms, 154-155 



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Index 355 



punctuation 
addresses, 187-188 
brackets, 335-336 
business letters, addressing, 194 
colons, 195-196 
comma splice, 85 
commas, 325-330 
commas, conjunctions and, 84-86 
commas, lists and, 182-183 
conjunctions, false joiners, 192-194 
conjunctions, semicolons and, 192 
conversational English and, 13 
dashes, 199-202 
dates, 188-189 
ellipsis, 331-332 
endmarks, 65-67 
hyphenation, 332-335 
lists, introducing with colons, 196 
lists, separating items with semicolons, 
194-195 

parentheses, 335-336 
periods, abbreviations and, 215 
quotations, exclamation points and, 172 
quotations, introducing with colons, 
197-198 

quotations, no speaker tags, 169-170 
quotations, question marks and, 170-172 
quotations, semicolons and, 172-173 
quotations, speaker changes, 175-176 
quotations, speaker tags and, 165-169 
quotations inside quotations, 173-174 
semicolons, 191-192 
sentences, introductory words, 190 
slang, quotation marks and, 177 
slashes, 336 

titles, quotation marks and, 178-179 

• 0 • 

question mark (?), 65-67 
quotations, 170-172 
questions 

complete sentences and, 62 
subject-verb agreement, 137-139 
quotations, 163-165 
in British English, 175 
capital letters, 167, 169 iV 



colons, introducing with, 197-198 
commas, 169 

enclosing words with, 176-177 
exclamation points, 172 
inside quotations, 173-174 
punctuation, no speaker tags, 169-170 
punctuation, speaker tags and, 165-169 
question marks, 170-172 
run-on sentences, 167-168 
semicolons (;), 172-173 
slang and, 177 
speaker changes, 175-176 
titles, 178-179 

• R • 

race (ethnicity), capitalization, 209 
raise/rise, 286 
records, titles of, 178-179 
reference sources, learning grammar, 
343-346 

regular plural nouns, forming, 54-55 
regular verbs, past and present 
participles, 40 

relationships, prepositions and, 111-112 
relative pronouns, 94 
requests, subjunctive mood and, 290-292 
rise/raise, 286 
run-on sentences, 84, 92 
correcting, semicolons, 193 
quotations, 167-168 

•5 • 

S-AV-DO sentence pattern, 71 
S-AV-IO-DO sentence pattern, 72 
school courses, capitalization, 210-211 
school grade levels, capitalization, 211 
seasons, capitalization, 210 
second person, 276 
semicolons (;), 87-88, 191-192 
commas and, 317 

conjunctions (false joiners), 192-194 
lists, separating items, 194-195 
quotations, 172-173 

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English Grammar For Dummies/ ww.watchtvsitcoms.com 



sentences 

beginning, conjunctions and, 65, 86 
combining, 83-84 
combining, colons, 198-199 
combining, commas and, 84-86 
combining, independent and subordinate 
clauses, 88-89 
combining, pronouns, 92-94 
combining, semicolons and, 87-88, 
191-192 

comparisons, word endings, 255-260 
comparisons in, pronouns and, 225-226 
complete, 61-63 

complete, subject-verb pairs and, 59-61 
complete, understood subject and, 60 
conjunctions and, 63-65 
correlatives, 277-279 
diagramming, 16 
double comparisons, 268 
end punctuation, types of, 65-67 
ending, prepositions and, 116-117 
fragments, 63-65 
fragments, avoiding, 91-92 
illogical comparisons, 266-267 
improper comparisons, 281-282 
improving, 322 

incomplete comparisons, 264-266 
interjections and, 117 
introductory words, commas and, 190 
irregular comparisons, 260-261 
linking verbs and, 21-23 
minimum requirements, 309-311 
negative statements, subject-verb 
agreement and, 139 
numbers in, capital letters and, 57 
parallel constructions, 269-272 
person, shifting, 276-277 
pronouns, linking verbs and, 23-25 
questions, complete sentences and, 62 
run-on, 84, 92 

run-on, correcting with semicolons, 193 
S-AV-DO pattern, 71 
S-AV-IO-DO pattern, 72 
shifting verb voice, 274-275 
subject-verb pairs, 46 
tense, shifting, 273-274 



series, commas in, 182-183 
set, 58 

sex/gender, 129 

sexist language, pronouns and, 129-130 

should of, 160-161 

simple predicate, verbs and, 28 

simple tense, 32-34 

since/because, 93 

singular 

nouns, possessive forms, 150-151 
nouns ending in s, possessive forms, 
156-157 

possessive pronouns, 123-124 
pronouns, 121-122 
pronouns, correct antecedents and, 
127-128 

regular verbs, 41-42 
subject-verb agreement and, 132-135 
sit, 58 
slang, 13 

quotation marks and, 177 
slashes, rules for using, 336 
some, subject-verb agreement and, 142 
some place, 30 
some time, 30 
somebody, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
someone, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
someplace, 30 
something, 127 

subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
sometime, 30 
songs, titles of, 178-179 
speaker tags. See quotations 
speeches, 14 
spell checkers, 15 

spelling, commonly misspelled words, 30 
split infinitives, 29, 44 
standard usage, 1 1 

statistics, subject-verb agreement and, 146 
stories, titles of, 178-179 
style manuals, 217 
subject, 45 
appositives, 224 
compound, 46-47 



unusual subject-verb order and,v48j¥4^tchtvsitcoeitheri/or and neither/nor, selecting 



verb-infinitive pattern, 292 



verbs, 280 




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Index 357 



I, me, myself, correct use, 50 
implied, 49-50, 253-254 
infinitives and, 28 
introductory participle, 250 
linking verbs and, 21 
misidentifying adverbs as, 52-53 
multiple, subject-verb agreement, 136-137 
numbers, capital letters and, 57 
parallel sentence construction, 271 
person, shifting, 276-277 
plural nouns, forming, 54-57 
pronouns, correct/incorrect, 24 
relative pronouns, 94 
subordinate clauses, 314 
who/whoever, 297 

subject case. See nominative pronouns; 

subject pronouns 
subject complement, 74-75 
linking verbs and, 21, 76 
pronouns, 78 

subject pronouns, 115-116, 221-222 
compound, 222-224 
subject-verb agreement, 135 
analysis, 146 
economics, 146 
here and there and, 142-143 
mathematics, 145-146 
multiple subjects and, 136-137 
mumps, 146 

negative statements, 139 
news, 145-146 
politics, 145-146 
prepositional phrases, 140-141 
pronouns, common problems with, 
141-142 

questions and, 137-139 
statistics, 146 
subjunctive mood, 291 
tenses and, 132-135 
time and money, 136 
subject-verb pairs, 46 
complete sentences and, 59-61 
locating, 47-48 
mismatches, 60 

prepositional phrases and, 114-115 
word order and, 48-49 



subjunctive mood 
as though, 290 

commands, wishes, and requests, 290-292 
had, 288-290 
if, 291 

let us, 292-293 
were, 287-288 

subordinate clauses, 311-314 
appropriate content, 318 
independent clauses, separating from, 
315-316 

joining with independent clauses, 88-89 
placement, 317 
relative pronouns and, 94 
subordinate conjunctions, 89-91, 192 
superlative words, 259 
suppose, past tense and, 29 
symbols, apostrophes and, 162 

•T • 

tapes, titles of, 178-179 
television series episodes, titles of, 178-179 
television shows, titles of, 178-179 
tense, 31 
future, 33-34, 36 
future perfect, 36, 38 
future perfect progressive, 38 
future progressive, 33-34 
helping verbs, 26, 39 
historical present, 37 
mixing, 33 
past, 32-33, 35 

past perfect progressive, 37-38 
past progressive, 32-33, 35 
perfect, 36 

present, 32, 34-35, 245-246 
present perfect, 36-37, 38-39 
present perfect progressive, 36-37 
present progressive, 32, 34-35 
progressive, 32 

questions, subject-verb agreement and, 
137-139 



shifting, 273-274 
simple, 32-34 

subject-verb agreement and, 132-135 
verbs, seauence of events and. 235-2^ 




English Grammar For Dummies www.watchtvsitcoms.com 



that, commas and, 184 
that/which, commas and, 327 
the, capitalizing in titles, 213 
their, 124 

their/there/they’re, 122 
then, semicolons and, 193 
there, 122 

sentence subject and, 52-53 
subject-verb agreement and, 142-143 
verbs, selecting, 53 
therefore, 90 
semicolons and, 193 
these, commas and, 184 
they, 122, 124 
third person, 276 
this 

commas and, 184 
pronoun reference and, 303 
those, commas and, 184 
thus, semicolons and, 193 
time 

capitalization, 210 
possessive noun forms and, 151 
subject-verb agreement and, 136 
verbs, sequence of events and, 235-243 
titles. See also official titles (people) 
capitalization, 212-213 
quotation marks, 178-179 
to be, 28 
tenses, 41-42 
to/too/two, 296 



verbs, 17 
action, 25 

action, direct objects and, 70-72 
action, indirect objects and, 72-73 
active, 233-234 
adverbs, 99-102 
compound, 46-47 
compound pronouns, 222-223 
dangling modifiers, 249-251 
future perfect progressive tense, 38 
future perfect tense, 36, 38 
future progressive tense, 33-34 
future tense, 33-34, 36 
gerunds, 318-319 

gerunds, possessive pronouns and, 
231-232 
helping, 26 

helping, done and, 242 
helping, tense and, 39 
historical present tense, 37 
identifying, 27-28 
imperative mood, 286-287 
indicative mood, 285-286 
infinitives and, 28, 61 
irregular, 41-43 
linking, 17-23 

linking, adjectives and, 97-98 
linking, compound subject pronouns and, 
226-227 

linking, subject complements and, 74-75 
misidentifying action/being words as, 
51-52 



• U • 

understood subject, 49-50 
complete sentences and, 60 
unique, 261-262 
usage, 11 

• V • 

verbals, 15, 318 
gerunds, 318-319 
improving sentences, 322-323 
infinitives, 319-320 
participles, 320-322 
simultaneous events, 236-237 
verb-infinitive pattern, 292 



mood, 285 

parallel sentence construction, 269-270 
participles, 320-322 
parts of speech and, 28 
passive, 233-234 
past and present participles, 40 
past perfect progressive tense, 37-38 
past perfect tense, 37-38 
past progressive tense, 32-33, 35 
past tense, 32-33, 35 
perfect tense, 36 
predicates and, 28 
present perfect infinitives, 243 
present perfect progressive tense, 36-37 
www.watchtvsitpfft&e&trperfect tense, 36-37, 38-39 
present progressive tense, 32, 34-35 




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Index 35$ 



present tense, 32, 34-35, 245-246 
progressive tense, 32, 34-36 
pronoun agreement and, 301-302 
reporting information, 243-245 
selecting, either/or and neither/nor, 280 
selecting, here/there sentences, 53 
selecting, separating independent and 
subordinate clauses, 316-317 
sensory, 20-21 

sequencing future events, 240-241 
sequencing more than two events, 239-240 
sequencing two events, 237-239 
simple tense, 32-34 
simultaneous events, 236 
subjunctive mood, 287-293 
subordinate clauses, 313-314 
tense, 26, 31 
tense, shifting, 273-274 
tenses, sequence of events and, 235-243 
tenses, subject-verb agreement and, 
132-135 
verbals, 15 

voice, shifting, 274-275 

voice 

shifting, 274-275 
verbs, 233-235 

vowel sounds, articles, selecting, 118 



• W • 

well/good, 105-106 
whether/if, 64 

which/that, commas and, 327 
who/whom, 297-300 
whose/who’s, 152 

wishes, subjunctive mood and, 290-292 

would of, 160-161 

writing 

conversational English, punctuation 
and, 13 
e-mail, 12 

improving sentences, 322 
slang in, 12 

•y* 

you 

implied subject, 49-50 
singular/plural forms, 134 
you’re/your, 160 



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English Grammar For Dummies 



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